LOS ANGELES – Singer Natalie Cole, daughter of legendary singer-jazz musician Nat “King” Cole and Maria Hawkins Cole, also a vocalist, died Thursday evening, New Year’s Eve, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at the age of 65. Reportedly, the cause of death was a series of complications arising from Ms. Cole’s well-known health issues, according to family members.
“Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying… with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved Mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain UNFORGETTABLE in our hearts forever,” her sisters Timolin and Casey Cole and her son Robert Yancy said in a public statement, according to several news sources.
Taking advantage of her musical pedigree, Natalie Cole began her career as most popular singers do, by appearing in small, out-of-the-way clubs as soloist for Black Magic, the band she headed up. She became strongly identified early on with the R&B sound, and soon rose to score a number of hits in the 1970s, including songs like “Our Love” and “Inseparable.”
But, like so many popular artists, Cole also experienced problems with her quick rise to success, spurred on in part by her difficulties dealing with the death of her father from lung cancer in 1965, when he was 45 and she was just 15. She became chronically depressed, slowly descending into a notorious phase of drug abuse that nearly cost her career.
Struggling to overcome her problems, she managed to restart her career in the late 1980s, scoring a hit in 1987 with her “Everlasting” LP as she re-emerged as more of a jazz and pop artist. But perhaps her biggest splash of all came with her 1991 album, “Unforgettable…With Love,” a recording in which she reprised some of her father’s greatest hits.
Attracting the most attention on the album was a haunting yet moving duet, featuring Natalie and her father singing “Unforgettable,” one of his signature songs. In a seemingly miraculous feat at the time, the album’s sound engineers seamlessly grafted her newly recorded voice onto a remastered recording made earlier by her father, resulting in an almost dreamlike performance that proved “Unforgettable” in itself.
The album quickly went multiplatinum, winning a number of Grammy Awards and copping Album of the Year.
Back on top, her newest successes led to roles in film and TV, including guest slots on “Touched by an Angel” and “Law & Order SVU.” She also appeared in the 2004 Cole Porter film bio “De-Lovely” and portrayed herself in a TV biopic entitled “Love: The Natalie Cole Story.”
At some point in the past, however, given her history of substance abuse, Cole had contracted hepatitis-C, ultimately forcing her to undergo a kidney transplant when the chemotherapy she was undergoing caused a kidney to fail. Tragically, her sister Carol Cole died just a day after Natalie received the transplant.
Natalie Cole’s health remained tentative from that point on, sadly ironic in that breakthrough hepatitis-C-specific drug treatments that can cure less advanced stages of the disease have recently gone on the market.