Singer Natalie Cole, the daughter of music great Nat King Cole who became a recording star in her own right with hits that spanned three decades, has died, her publicist, Maureen O’Connor, said.
She was 65 years old. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, O'Connor said.
Cole is perhaps best known for her 1991 multiple Grammy-winning album "Unforgettable: With Love," which became the biggest hit of her career — selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Cole wowed audiences with a seamless duet with her late father's voice on the title tune, one of the elder Cole's signature numbers.
Other hits included "This Will Be," "Our Love" and a cover of "Pink Cadillac."
Cole's move to singing was accidental. She was a pre-med student at the University of Massachusetts when a friend — who was singing with a local group — fell ill the night of a show and asked whether Cole would stand in for him. He had heard her sing informally at parties. She ended up taking his place in the group and setting aside a medical career.
Cole's name helped and hurt. It resulted in a lot of club bookings, but also led to embarrassing moments like the night one club marquee read, "Appearing tonight: The daughter of Nat King Cole." Cole's ace in the hole was the fact she really could sing.
But for all of Cole's successes, her life was also marked by years of serious health problems.
The nine-time Grammy winner underwent a kidney transplant in May 2009 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She had revealed in 2008 that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C and her kidneys had failed after she went through treatment.
In a 2008 interview with The Times, she spoke about an illness that caused fluid-filled lungs and rapidly deteriorating kidneys.
"I didn't realize how close I was to checking out," Cole said.
At the time, she had been on the tail-end of treatment for hepatitis C. It was a consequence of her much-publicized drug use in the 1970s and '80s; she was addicted to heroin for years before she successfully completed rehab in 1983.
Cole said at the time that the Interferon treatments made the recording process much more difficult, as some of the side effects — lack of appetite, diminished thirst — rendered her dehydrated and increasingly weak.
She reflected on her health problems in an interview with People magazine around that time.
“I’m committed to working. I’m a fighter, not a chump,” she said. “The timing is intense. The album is special to me, and here I am sick. But you know the saying: These are the best of times and the worst of times. So we’ll barrel through.”
O'Connor said Cole never fully recovered from that surgery.
The illnesses didn't stop Cole's career.
In 2013, her debut Spanish-language album, "En Español," was nominated for a Latin Grammy award for album of the year. Natalie Cole was born into music royalty. Her mother was Maria Cole, whose singing career included a stint as vocalist for Duke Ellington's orchestra in the mid-1940s.
The Coles, whose purchase of a mansion in the exclusive, all-white Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1948 spurred a homeowners protest, traveled throughout Europe together in the 1950s — a time in which Maria resumed her singing career and recorded several songs with her husband for Capitol Records.
Nat Cole, whose hit songs included "Unforgettable"and "Mona Lisa" and whose 1956-57 TV musical-variety series "The Nat 'King' Cole Show" was the first network TV program hosted by an African American, died of lung cancer in 1965.
In 1990, Maria and Natalie accepted a Grammy lifetime achievement award for Nat.
In a statement Friday on Natalie Cole's death, Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow said: "We are very saddened to learn of the passing of one of music’s most celebrated and iconic women, Natalie Cole."
"We’ve lost a wonderful, highly cherished artist and our heartfelt condolences go out to Natalie’s family, friends, her many collaborators, as well as to all who have been entertained by her exceptional talent."
Robert Hilburn contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
10:50: This post was updated with a statement from the Recording Academy president.
10:20: This post was updated with details about Cole's death and information about her family.
9:38 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information.
This article was originally published at 9:11 a.m.