With great sadness we report that Clarence Clemons passed away June 18, 2011 of complications from a stroke he suffered on June 12. The larger-than-life sound of his saxophone brought joy to millions as part of the signature sound of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He will be missed.
The thousand-watt smile and booming voice of Clarence Clemons take center stage at the bustling physical therapy center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Despite the teeth-clenching pain of these post-surgical exercises to rehab his knees, Clarence is as gracious, humble and sweet as he is famous. “Thanks for coming,” he says to me and the camera crew who are tagging along for his PT session.
Although he’s held in the highest of heaven’s regard among his fans, the tenor saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band also is well grounded and takes life and his osteoarthritis in stride. With a sunny outlook and new hips and knees, at age 67, this fixture in one of the hottest rock ’n’ roll bands of our time has no plans of slowing down.
No Time for Pain
“There’s no time for pain, especially when I am on stage and the adrenaline is flowing,” says the charismatic, 6-foot-3-inch tall, 240-pound Singer Island, Fla., resident known as Big Man in the biz.
“Being on stage is like no other experience in the world. It certainly takes my mind off the aches and pains,” says Clarence with a laugh. Diagnosed in his 30s, Clarence first had hip pain, which eventually spread to his knees, requiring each of those joints to be replaced. He underwent bilateral hip replacement 15 years ago and had both knees replaced last fall, recovering in time to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show in February.
Currently on tour with Bruce and the band – performing three-hour shows a night – Clarence stays in top physical and mental condition with a regimen of daily stretching, cardio and strength training workouts, combined with a high protein, low carbohydrate diet, a multi-vitamin, glucosamine and fish oil. “Bruce is such a high-energy person, if I didn’t work out, I would die out there,” Clarence says. “I try to stay on top of it, be prepared, be ready to do my job.
When he’s not on the road he adds strength training, such as Pilates, three times a week with a trainer to his routine. “Pilates has changed my life and made me stronger,” he says.
Clarence has sought pain relief with periodic epidurals and pain medication. He quickly decided meds were not for him. “I like staying mentally sharp and focused, which comes naturally to me as a musician,” he says. After all, the mental part is a much bigger factor than the physical.
“By the time surgery became necessary, I was ready,” says Clarence. “Having arthritis taught me to find a solution, not dwell on the pain.”
In his time off, Clarence develops musical projects with his own band, Temple of Soul. He also has authored a book featuring his life stories and philosophies (Big Man, Grand Central Publishing, 2009), due out this fall.
Has the Big Man enjoyed star treatment throughout his multiple surgeries and rehabilitation? “I’m just a nice guy, very easygoing,” Clarence says, smiling. “So people always treat me well.”
“There’s no shame in having arthritis or undergoing surgeries,” he assures. “It takes courage to live life to the best of one’s ability. And if that means having surgery, then so be it.
“I know who I am and that my life’s purpose is to bring joy and happiness to others. And that’s the best reason I know for staying strong, staying positive and living life to the fullest.”
Editor’s note: Clarence plans to have surgery on his lower spine to correct joint damage from his osteoarthritis once the current world tour ends in late summer and he can devote 12 months to his recovery.