Ric Ocasek: Just What We Needed

The recent passing of Ric Ocasek left all of us reeling. Especially since it happened just days after we lost Eddie Money. Their respective music was the soundtrack of our youth for many of us. Ric showed us he had so many more facets than we ever dreamed possible. He was a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and painter, as well as husband and father.

Born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore MD, he was always interested in music. A forced move to Ohio when he was 16 proved most fortuitous for Ric, because soon after that was when he met Benjamin Orr.  The two met when Ric saw Ben perform with another band, when they were just out of high school. They became friends but would not form a band together until some years later. In 1968, they formed a band called “ID Nirvana” and performed around the Ohio State University campus.

In 1970, the duo moved to Boston and formed a new folk-style band called “Milkwood,” which included future Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes. The band would have minor success, and released an album to moderate local interest. Undaunted, Ocasek and Orr would soon form another group called “Richard and the Rabbits” that played as a duo, but sometimes included Hawkes. Still not satisfied with how his music career was headed, Ocasek decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. The band was Ocasek on rhythm guitar, Orr on bass, Hawkes on keyboards, and adding Elliot Easton on lead guitar, and David Robinson on drums. With the lineup complete, they changed their name to “The Cars” in 1976.

The Cars were at the forefront of merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synthesizer-oriented music that was then becoming popular and which flourished in the early 1980s that was known as New Wave and sometimes Synth-pop. Robert Palmer, music critic for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, described the Cars’ musical style: “they have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the ’50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend.”  Their debut album, “The Cars” sold six million copies and appeared on the Billboard 200 album chart for 139 weeks. Subsequent albums “Candy-O,” “Panorama,” “Shake It Up,” and “Heartbeat City” would all do remarkably well, both critically and in sales. However, a three year hiatus before releasing 1987’s “Door to Door” proved the fatal turning point for the band, and the album was met with poor reviews and even poorer sales.

The Cars broke up in 1988, with hard feelings amongst most of the band. Sadly, the rift between Ocasek and Orr would never be mended. Orr died from Pancreatic Cancer in 2000.

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 from the late 70s through the 80s, sharing credit on a few songs with bandmate Greg Hawkes as co-writer. Ocasek would also produce most of their music and developed a reputation as an excellent producer. Along with the Cars, he also produced other notable bands including Weezer, No Doubt, and Bad Religion along with numerous others.

Ocasek was married three times. His first wife Constance divorced him in Ohio in 1971. In the same year he married Suzanne Otcasek, who uses the original spelling of Ocasek’s name. They were married for 17 years, until he met Paulina Porizkova. During filming of the music video for the Cars’ song “Drive” in 1984, Ocasek met then 18-year-old Czech-born supermodel Porizkova, and became instantly smitten. They were married on August 23, 1989 on Saint-Barthélemy island, shortly after his second divorce. Sadly in May 2018, Porizkova announced she and Ocasek had separated a year earlier. They had not divorced at the time of his death. Ocasek had six sons between the three marriages.

Ocasek also had a solo career, as well as writing poetry and dabbling in acting. He was most noted for his recurring appearances on “The Colbert Report” as himself doing comedic sketches.

Ocasek was found dead at his New York City townhouse by wife Porizkova on September 15, 2019, where he had been recovering from surgery. The Chief Medical Examiner office reported that Ocasek died from natural causes. He suffered from both hypertensive heart and coronary artery disease. He was 75 years old.

On a personal note, we here at Pop-Daze were extremely saddened to hear of Ric’s passing. Such a sad epitaph to a man whose life was so full of life and color. It felt like a part of our youth died as well. Rest in peace Ric and thank you for all the great music.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]