Isaac Hayes, the singer and songwriter whose luxurious, strutting funk arrangements in songs like ‘Theme From ‘Shaft’ defined the glories and excesses of soul music in the early 1970s, died on Sunday in East Memphis, Tennessee. He was 65.
The Shelby County sheriff’s office said that Hayes’ wife, Adjowa, found him collapsed near a treadmill at their home in Cordova, an eastern suburb of Memphis, and he was pronounced dead an hour later. The cause of death was not known.
With his lascivious bass-baritone and flamboyant wardrobe, Hayes developed a musical persona that was an embodiment of the hyper-masculine, street-savvy characters of the so-called blaxploitation films of the era. In his theme song to Gordon Parks’ ‘Shaft’ from 1971, the title character is summed up in a line that has become a classic of kitsch: Who’s a black private dick/Who’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
Eventful life: A file picture of US musician, actor and singer Isaac Hayes. The ‘Shaft’ theme has become one of his best-known songs. (ARC-Jean-Bernard Sieber / Reuters)
The ‘Shaft’ theme won an Academy Award and has become one of his best-known songs. But Hayes’ career stretched far beyond soundtracks. For much of the 1960s and into the 1970s, he was one of the principal songwriters and performers for Stax Records, the trailblazing Memphis R&B label, and in the 1990s he revived his career by providing the voice for the amorous and wise chef on the cable television show ‘South Park’.
Hayes had health problems in recent years but had continued to tour and work occasionally in films. He had a role in ‘Soul Men’, a comedy set for release in November and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, the comedian who died on Saturday. Hayes had been married three times previously. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their son, Nana, and 11 other children.
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John M. Hubbell contributed to this story.