In the 1980s, Clemons began a second career as an actor - appearing in TV shows like Diff'rent Strokes and movies such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. He also scored a solo hit in 1985 with "You're A Friend Of Mine," a duet with Jackson Browne. He was on tour with Ringo Starr's All Star Band in 1989 when Springsteen phoned him to say he was breaking up the band. "I didn't speak or even attempt to interject," Clemons wrote in his memoir. "I got very quiet and stopped smiling. In fact, it looked to Ringo like I was being told about somebody dying."
The E Street Band reformed in 1999 for a reunion tour, and over the next decade they recorded three albums with Springsteen and toured regularly. Clemons loved being back on the road, even as he battled chronic pain in his joints, undergoing numerous surgeries for knee and hip replacements. When the band toured in 2007, Clemons began sitting during much of the show. Over the next two years, Springsteen and The E Street band toured extensively - and although Clemons continued to perform brilliantly, it was clear the road was taking its toll on him.
"That last tour was hell," Clemons told Rolling Stone in February. "Pure hell." When it ended in November of 2009 Clemons had both knees replaced and underwent spinal fusion surgery. "It made me stronger," he told Rolling Stone. "For the past year I've been in physical therapy a few days a week working my ass off to get back in shape. I'm walking better now, though I still use a cane."
"I always felt kinship with Clarence because it sometimes seemed like he and I were the only two black guys in the arena at Bruce Springsteen shows," says Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. "I last saw him in 2009 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th Anniversary concerts. At the time he had some health problems with his knees, his back, but he still just sat there absolutely regal and badass with that big cape and wide brim hat and teeth glowing and that beautiful smile….He has a huge catalog of awesome jams that we can enjoy as long as there’s music."
Clemons was recovering at his Florida home this past January when he got an unexpected call from Lady Gaga's manager. "They said to me, 'Lady Gaga wants you to play on her album,'" Clemons told Rolling Stone. "This is on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 pm. I said, 'When do you want me to do it? I'm free Monday or Tuesday.' They go, "No, she needs you RIGHT NOW in New York City." Clemons rushed to the airport and got on the next flight to New York. "She came running down the hall," Clemons said. "She was like 'Big Man!' I was like, 'Holy shit, man. Damn!'" Over just three hours, Clemons played sax on "Edge of Glory" and "Hair." "It was wild," he said. "I was so excited. I'm a Gaga-ite."
Gaga recruited Clemons to appear in her video of "Edge of Glory," and he performed the track live with her on the season finale of American Idol in May. When he spoke to Rolling Stone earlier this year, Clemons said he was looking forward to a future E Street Band tour – and that he couldn't imagine staying off the road. "As long as my mouth, hands and brain still work I'll be out there doing it," he said. "I'm going to keep going 'til I'm not there anymore. This is what's keeping me alive and feeling young and inspired. My spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy told me that my purpose in life is to bring joy and light to the world, and I don't know any better way to do then what I'm doing now."
Clemons suffered a massive stroke on June 12th. While initial signs had been hopeful after his hospitalization and two subsequent brain surgeries, he reportedly took a turn for the worse later in the week.
"Clarence lived a wonderful life," Springsteen said. "He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the oppurtunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."
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