Bernie “The Wizard of Woo” Worrell, founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads touring musician and Moog synthesizer innovator, has died of lung cancer at the age of 72.
Worrell grew up in New Jersey, where his parents became immediately aware of his musical gifts, especially with the piano. By age eight, after five years of lessons, he wrote his first concerto, later studying at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music.
In the 1970’s, Worrell met George Clinton and went on to found the monumentally influential funk-psych collective Parliament-Funkadelic after the merger of two separate groups. During this period, Worrell also received the second-ever Moog synthesiser crafted by Bob Moog himself. Worrell used the futuristic instrument to lend Parliament-Funkadelic its space-age funk sound and aesthetic.
Worrell released his first solo recording in 1978, titled All the Wood in the World. He would go on to release 11 other studio recordings under his own name. By the time of his death, Worrell had recorded or contributed to a whopping 54 studio albums, including works by everyone from rapper Mos Def to the Buckethead/Les Claypool-featuring supergroup Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains.
In the 1980s, Worrell toured with fellow futurists The Talking Heads, appearing on their essential live albums Stop Making Sense and The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. “I learned a lot … from the time spent traveling and playing with Bernie—wordplay, musical attitude and lot more,” said Talking Head frontman David Byrne earlier this year. “He informed the musician and composer I was to become.”
In January, Worrell was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Members of Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads and more gathered in April for the “All the WOO in the World” benefit concert to raise money for the ailing musician’s medical expenses.
Today, Worrell’s wife Judie Worrell posted the following statement on Facebook to inform the world of the musician’s passing: “AT 11:54, June 24, 2016, Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit. Rest in peace, my love—you definitely made the world a better place. Till we meet again, vaya con Dios.”
Below, find Paste Cloud footage of the Wizard of Woo in action during a 1999 Woodstock performance.