Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly singer who was instrumental in the development and evolution of rock ’n’ roll in Canada in the ‘60s, died Sunday morning, his wife Wanda told The Canadian Press. He was 87.
“He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she told the paper.
Although the cause of death has not been made public, Hawkins underwent bypass surgery in 2002 and then was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year later. In the video “Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kicking,” he talks about his health and the use of everything from traditional treatment to psychic healers to beat the cancer. And, miraculously, he did.
Born and raised in Arkansas, Hawkins formed his first band, The Hawks, while attending the University of Arkansas. As owner of the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, he met many musical pioneers including Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty, who suggested he tour Canada. While on the road, he connected with several musicians and formed The Band, whose Thanksgiving Day farewell concert was documented in the 1978 film “The Last Dance.”
His hit songs included covers of Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days,” Young Jessie’s “Mary Lou,” Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” and “Susie Q,” written by his cousin, rockabilly artist Dale Hawkins.
Occasionally booking an acting gig, he appeared as Bob Dylan in the movie “Renaldo and Clara,” as well as roles in “Heaven’s Gate,” “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II” and “Snake Eater.”
With his music – and influence – still going strong in the ‘90s, Toronto declared Oct. 4, 2002 “Ronnie Hawkins Day” and he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Two years later he was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame at the Canadian Music Industry Awards, and in 2013, he was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada.