Richard Theodore Otcasek (March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019), was known as Ric Ocasek and was an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and painter, and the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the rock band the Cars.
He was born on March 23, 1944, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. When he was 16 years old, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his father worked as systems analyst with NASA at the Lewis Research Center. Richard graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1963 and briefly attended Antioch College and Bowling Green State University, but dropped out to pursue a career in music (good choice!).
Ric Ocasek met future Cars bassist Benjamin Orr in Cleveland in 1965 after he saw Orr performing on a local musical variety program with his band the Grasshoppers. He reconnected with Orr a few years later in Columbus, Ohio, and they formed a band called ID Nirvana in 1968, performing in and around Ohio State University.
Ocasek and Orr were in various bands in Columbus and Ann Arbor, Michigan, before relocating to Boston, in the early 1970s, where they formed a Crosby, Stills and Nash-style folk rock band called Milkwood. They released one album, How’s the Weather, on Paramount Records in early 1973 but it failed to chart. After Milkwood, Ocasek formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, which also included Orr and future Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes. Ocasek and Orr also performed as an acoustic duo during this period, and some of the songs they played eventually became the early Cars songs.
Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with left handed guitarist Elliot Easton in the band Cap’n Swing, and they soon came to the attention of WBCN disc jockey Maxanne Sartori, who began playing songs from their demo tape on her show. After Cap’n Swing was rejected by several record labels, Ocasek got rid of the bass player and drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Orr took over on bass and David Robinson, best known for his career with the Modern Lovers, became the drummer, with Hawkes returning to play keyboards and together they became the magnificent band “The Cars”, in late 1976.
The Cars, recorded numerous hit songs from 1978 to 1988. With Ric Ocasek playing rhythm guitar and singing lead vocals for a majority of songs (bassist Benjamin Orr was lead vocalist on the remaining tracks). After splitting writing duty with Orr in the 1970s, Ocasek became the principal songwriter of the band, and wrote nearly all of the Cars’ material, sharing credit on only a few songs with bandmate Greg Hawkes as co-writer. In 2010, Ocasek reunited with the surviving original members of the Cars to record their first album in 24 years, titled Move Like This, which was released on May 10, 2011.
During his time with the Cars, Ocasek also developed a great reputation as a record producer, and took this role for many up-and-coming bands of differing genres including Bad Brains’ Rock for Light and Guided by Voices’ Do the Collapse. His many other production credits include Weezer’s Blue Album and Green Album (both multi-platinum), Hole, Bebe Buell, No Doubt, Nada Surf, Irish folk-punk band Black 47, Bad Religion, Johnny Bravo, D Generation, The Wannadies, The Cribs, Possum Dixon, Martin Rev, Jonathan Richman, and The Pink Spiders. He also produced a portion of the third Motion City Soundtrack album, Even If It Kills Me.
Ric Ocasek released his first solo album called Beatitude in 1982. It was a more experimental variation of the Cars’ new wave rock sound and Ocasek played all of the instruments on some tracks. A more synthesizer-heavy follow up, This Side of Paradise, was released in 1986, and featured Hawkes, Elliot Easton and Ben Orr. A No. 15 hit single, “Emotion in Motion,” accompanied the album.
The Cars disbanded in 1988, and Ocasek disappeared from the public eye for a couple of years. He resurfaced in 1990 with his own album, Fireball Zone. One track, “Rockaway,” enjoyed a brief stay on the charts, but his solo albums realized disappointing sales, especially compared to his success with the Cars. He subsequently released other solo works throughout the decade, including 1993’s Quick Change World, 1996’s Getchertiktz (a collaboration with Suicide’s Alan Vega and Canadian poet Gillian McCain comprising only beat poetry set to music, sound effects, etc.), and 1997’s Billy Corgan-produced Troublizing (which Ocasek supported with a very brief tour, his first since leaving the Cars). In 2005 Ocasek released another album, Nexterday, to little fanfare, but it received positive reviews.
Ric Ocasek also wrote a book of poetry in 1993 entitled Negative Theatre. It was at one time expected to be incorporated into an album and multimedia incarnation of the same name, but those plans were dropped.
For many years Ric Ocasek had a hobby of making drawings, photo collages, and mixed-media art works which were shown at a gallery in Columbus, Ohio as an exhibit called “Teahead Scraps”, in 2009.
Ocasek also had a small acting career with a cameo role as a beatnik painter in the John Waters film Hairspray (1988), and a small part in the movie Made in Heaven (1987) in which he played a mechanic.
In a 2005 interview in Rockline, Ric Ocasek stated that he hated touring and was unlikely to do so again. He also stated he would not be reuniting with the Cars again, but gave the okay to his former bandmates to do so using the name the New Cars and with Todd Rundgren replacing him on vocals.
In 2012, Ocasek released a book called Lyrics and Prose, which was a complete collection of lyrics from his solo and Cars’ albums, and also contained prose and poetry never set to music, as well as previously unpublished photographs and artwork.
In 2018, Ric Ocasek was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Cars, and also exhibited a number of his paintings in a national tour.
Ric Ocasek was married three times and had six sons, two from each of his three marriages.
Ocasek was found dead at his New York City townhouse, where he had been recovering from surgery, by his third wife Paulina Porizkova on September 15, 2019. The Chief Medical Examiner office reported that Ric Ocasek died from natural causes in his sleep. Ric Ocasek was known to suffer from both hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases.
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