MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless “Theme From Shaft” won Academy and Grammy awards, died Sunday afternoon, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said. He was 65.
A family member found him unresponsive near a treadmill and he was pronounced dead an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the sheriff’s office. The cause of death was not immediately known.
In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping before there was rap.
His career hit another high in 1997 when he became the voice of Chef, the sensible school cook and devoted ladies man on the animated TV show “South Park.”
Steve Shular, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said authorities received a 911 call after Hayes’ wife, young son and his wife’s cousin returned home from the grocery store and found him collapsed in a downstairs bedroom. A sheriff’s deputy administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
“The treadmill was running but he was unresponsive lying on the floor,” Shular said.
The album “Hot Buttered Soul” made Hayes a star in 1969. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses gave him a compelling visual image.
“Hot Buttered Soul” was groundbreaking in several ways: He sang in a cool style unlike the usual histrionics of big-time soul singers. He prefaced the song with “raps,” and the numbers ran longer than three minutes with lush arrangements.
Next came “Theme From Shaft,” a No. 1 hit in 1971 from the film “Shaft” starring Richard Roundtree.
At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No. 18 in its list of television’s 25 most memorable moments. He won an Academy Award for the song and was nominated for the score. The song and score also won two Grammys.
“The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence,” he said. “And they’ll tell you if you ask.”
Hayes was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
He was in several movies, including “It Could Happen to You” with Nicolas Cage, “Ninth Street” with Martin Sheen, “Reindeer Games” starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody “I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka.”