Farewell to the Big Man, Clarence Clemons

The Big Man is gone but hardly forgotten.

Clarence Clemons, 69, the larger-than-life saxophonist with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, died Saturday due to complications from a stroke suffered at his Florida home six days earlier. And he has left behind a treasure trove of memories from his collaboration with The Boss and his work as a solo artist for his family, friends and fans around the world, all of whom mourn the loss of Clemons today.

Those mourners include the New York Jets and their fans, who were treated to a fantastic performance by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer late last year.

That day, Dec. 12, Clemons played New Meadowlands Stadium, giving a short but powerful rendition of the National Anthem before the Jets-Dolphins game. Shortly after 4 p.m. ET, Clemons, dressed in black down to his gloves, lifted his tenor sax to his lips and produced a tight, crisp, sometimes smoking, sometimes soaring sound that echoed around the hushed stadium as the crowd soaked in what some have said was the best version of the Anthem they'd ever heard.

Clemons had many of those efforts over the years. He began playing the sax in Virginia at 9, met Springsteen in 1971, officially joined the E Street Band in '73 and was off and running. His big sound was the foundation on "Born to Run," "The River," "Born in the USA" and many other albums. Springsteen's lyric about "The Big Man" in "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" is self-explanatory.

(Coincidentally, he was mulling a career in football as well as music when he was an accomplished two-way lineman at then Maryland State, now Maryland–Eastern Shore, and no doubt ran into the four Jets-to-be from that school around that time, Emerson Boozer, Johnny Sample, Earl Christy and Sherm Plunkett. See Cleveland Plain Dealer story from last week.)

In between and after those gigs, Clemons played with Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead and Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band and this year accompanied Lady Gaga on sax in "The Edge of Glory." He acted in several films and TV shows, and he finished his autobiography in 2009.

Always upbeat, his recent problems with his back, knees and hand left him joking, "It takes a village to run the Big Man — a village of doctors." And as he told ABC News after his book came out, "No matter how bad you feel or whatever you feel, if you have a strong enough love and the will to do what you're doing, it happens, you do it." He lived his life to the fullest and provided us all a few bars for the soundtracks of our lives along the way.

The Jets offer their condolences to the Clemons family.

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