"Hound Dog" songwriter Jerry Leiber dies at 78

Mon Aug 22, 2011 9:22pm EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Celebrated lyricist Jerry Leiber, who partnered with composer Mike Stoller to write such iconic hits as "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" and played a key role in the birth of rock 'n' roll, died on Monday at age 78.

Leiber died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of cardiopulmonary failure, said Randy Poe, president of his publishing company. Family members of the legendary songwriter were with him when he died, according to Leiber's assistant, Marilyn Levy.

Launching their collaboration as teenagers in the early 1950s, Leiber and Stoller went on to pen more than 200 tunes covered by such recording stars as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, B.B. King, the Drifters and Peggy Lee. Presley alone recorded over 20 Leiber and Stoller songs.

Leiber jokingly referred to their six-decade partnership, chronicled in the 2009 memoir "Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography," as "the longest-running argument in show business."

"He was my friend, my buddy, my writing partner for 61 years," Stoller, 78, said in a statement released by their publicist. "He had a way with words. There was nobody better. I'm going to miss him."

Their songwriting credits included such rock 'n' roll classics as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City," "Poison Ivy" and the hit "Stand By Me," which they co-wrote with singer Ben E. King.

Their big breakthrough, "Hound Dog," originally topped the "race" music charts as a rhythm and blues single by Willie Mae "Big Mamma" Thornton in 1953, three years before Presley turned a somewhat sanitized version into a rock 'n' roll classic.

The crossover success of "Hound Dog" and other songs they wrote and produced helped pave the way for a whole body of R&B music, initially performed by black stars and embraced by African American listeners, to gain popularity with broader audiences, much of it reinterpreted by white artists.   Continued...

<p>Rock 'n' Roll songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (L-R, seated at the piano), along with music executives Lester Sill, Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, and the singing group 'The Coasters", are shown in this undated publicity photograph released to Reuters August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Courtesy Leiber and Stoller Archives/Handout</p>