Bobby Keys, who played saxophone for the Rolling Stones for more than four decades, passed away Tuesday at his home in Tennessee, Rolling Stone reports. He was 70. Keys was reportedly battling cirrhosis of the liver.
"The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys," the band said in a statement. "Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed."
Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who was often Keys' accomplice in offstage antics, released his own statement. "I have lost the largest pal in the world and I can't express the sense of sadness I feel, although Bobby would tell me to cheer up," he said. "My condolences to all that knew him and his love of music."
Born Dec. 18, 1943 — coincidentally, the same day as Richards — Keys was best known for his solos on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and his memorable performance in "Brown Sugar," but his career predated the Stones. In the 1950s, Keys performed with Buddy Holly before backing pop star Bobby Vee.
He first crossed paths with the band in 1964, and was initially not sure what to make of the English rockers. "You got to realize that the vision, the image, according to 1964 US rock and roll standards, was mohair suit and tie, and nicey-nicey ol' boy next door," Keys said in Richards' 2010 autobiography Life."I couldn't really hear all that well, amplifiers and PAs being what they were, but man I felt it... it reminded me so much of the energy I heard from Buddy and I heard from Elvis. There was something in there that was the real deal."
Keys reconnected with the band in the late '60s and appeared on several of their most acclaimed albums including Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. In addition to a 1972 solo album, Keys worked with John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker, among others.
Although his time with the Stones was off-and-on over the years — Keys had a strained relationship with front man Mick Jagger — he reunited with the band for good in 1989. He toured with the Stones earlier this year before his health prevented him from continuing to perform.
Keys also released an autobiography, Every Night's a Saturday Night, in 2012.