NASHVILLE (Reuters) — Songwriter Otis Blackwell, whose tunes “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Great Balls of Fire” became smash hits for Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, has died, hospital officials said Tuesday.
Blackwell, who was 70 and reported by friends to be ill for some time, was brought to St. Thomas Hospital Monday, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, a hospital spokesman said.
He had suffered a stroke in 1991, according to his attorney, Trip Aldridge.
A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the pianist and singer from Brooklyn, N.Y., launched his writing career by selling six songs for $150. He recorded one with a drummer playing on a cardboard box.
The song “Don’t Be Cruel” was picked up by Elvis Presley and went to Number One on the charts in 1956. The following year, another Blackwell song, “All Shook Up,” also became a Presley hit, as did “One Broken Heart For Sale” and “Return to Sender.”
Presley looked to Blackwell for inspiration for his early pop songs, picking songs he liked and then using the same arrangements.
Other hit songs were “Hey Little Girl” for Dee Clark and “Breathless” and “Great Balls of Fire” for Jerry Lee Lewis.
Blackwell’s song “Fever,” which he wrote under a pseudonym but never explained why, became a signature tune for Peggy Lee.
In the late 1970s, Blackwell recorded albums These Are My Songs and Singin’ the Blues. In all, he wrote almost 1,000 songs, including a number of top-selling rock ‘n’ roll tunes recorded by such notables as James Taylor and others.