CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rock ‘n’ roll great Chuck Berry was feeling fine and headed back to his hometown of St. Louis, associates said on Sunday, hours after the musician fell ill during a New Year’s performance in Chicago.
The 84-year-old entertainer startled fans on Saturday night when he slumped over his electric piano before a crowd of some 3,000 at Chicago’s Congress Theater and had to be helped off stage.
Berry returned about 30 minutes later, waved to the crowd and said he was OK, according to concert-goer Jim O’Malley. Then, as if to reassure the audience, he did an abbreviated version of his signature duck-walk move before leaving the stage again.
An assistant to Berry said in a telephone on Sunday morning that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer he was feeling well and returning to his home outside St. Louis in the afternoon.
Another associate, Joe Edwards, owner of the Blueberry Hill nightclub in St. Louis where Berry performs monthly, told Reuters, “I spoke to people with him, and he is en route to St. Louis and he is OK.”
“He is in flight right now. I think he was just tired,” Edwards added. “He is in phenomenal health, and he doesn’t drink or smoke and is a very strong person.”
Hotel staff at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago, where Berry was staying, also told Reuters they saw the performer on Sunday morning and that he looked good.
O’Malley said Berry had appeared to be struggling through much of Saturday night’s set, and paused a number of times for difficulties with his guitar, before he finally ceased performing about an hour into the show, slumped at the piano and waved for help.
“He appeared to be very tired, and seemed disappointed that the set didn’t go well. But he also seemed physically drained and not steady on his feet,” O’Malley told Reuters.
Some members of the crowd shouted, “We love you, Chuck!” as the performer, known for such rock ‘n’ roll standards as “Johnnie B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” walked off stage with the help of two assistants.
“There was definitely a strong sense of concern and affection for the man,” O’Malley said of the audience.
A local fire department spokesman said Berry had complained of feeling ill before Saturday’s concert and was checked out by paramedics before going on stage.
Edwards said paramedics also were present when the show ended, but Berry declined medical treatment.
The musician arrived in Chicago for the show, billed as “Chuck Berry’s Winter Dance Party,” after playing for a New Year’s Eve celebration the night before in New York City.
“He really is in remarkable health for someone 84. He still cuts his own grass and is an active person,” Edwards said.
Berry’s next performance at Blueberry Hill is slated for January 19 and already is sold out, he added.
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan