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Teddy Pendergrass dies, and Philly loses part of its soul


When I heard the news that local soul singer Teddy Pendergrass  had died yesterday, I was disappointed, but not really surprised. To be honest, I Teddy Pendergrass with Access Hollywood's Shaun Robsinson. Photo: www.shaunrobinson.comkind of had suspicions that Pendergrass' health was failing several months ago when he put his home up for sale. Maybe it was a little presumptuous, but Pendergrass had already sold his mansion and moved to a much smaller residence since his tragic automobile accident in 1982 left him paralyzed from the waist down.

It is not 100 percent clear what claimed the life of Pendergrass. Some say it was complications from colon cancer which he suffered from for about a year. However, one can imagine that his paralysis, which can commonly result in a shorter life span, played a part as well.

Being that I was only four when Pendergrass' life forever changed that night on Lincoln Drive, I didn't grow up with any new music that he necessarily released. Believe it or not, I first discovered him by getting his rock star trading card (you know, the cards that came out sometime in the early 1990's). When I learned more about him, I found out that not only was he a local guy and a drummer by trade, but he was the former lead singer for the Philadelphia soul group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Not that their music was tremendously familiar to me, but come on, who doesn't know "If You Don't Know Me by Now," and "Wake Up Everybody"? Of course, I learned a lot more by watching Pendergrass' Behind the Music on VH1, which pretty much covered his meteoric rise to fame after he left the Blue Notes, to his solo career that featured such hits as "Love TKO" and "Turn Off the Lights," to that fateful night in 1982 that changed his life forever.

Unlike many music stars who abandoned their roots for greener pastures, Pendergrass never strayed from the Philadelphia area despite his fame and fortune he accumulated at the end of the 1970's. Pendergrass continued to make music after his accident, but there was no hiding the fact that his once powerful voice was now a little less powerful, and that his career was forever changed. The expectations for his career at that point were extremely high, but many projects that Pendergrass had in the works were now shelved. Moreover, his days as a sex symbol were gone, becoming more of a person of inspiration as opposed to his image of a soulful R&B singer.

Despite this life-changing event, Pendergrass didn't want people to see him as a tragic figure by any means. However, when you see a man who was clearly at the top of his game only to suffer a personal setback to the degree that he did, it is quite difficult not to feel for him, or anyone for that matter that has been dealt a similar fate. Only one in his position can speak of the great deal of pain and anguish he had possibly endured from his injury. To his credit, Pendergrass kept going, helping numerous charities. In his later years, the headlines Pendergrass made were mostly for this philanthropic work such as the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance-which develops outreach programs to those with spinal cord injuries.

Sadly, Philadelphia is a little less soulful today. Teddy Pendergrass may be gone, but his music, inspiring story, and willingness to help others will be forever lasting.

For a complete history of Teddy Pendergrass, please visit www.teddypendergrass.com