Benjamin Orr

Benjamin Orr, bassist for 1980s super group, "The Cars" who sang many of the band's biggest hits, died October 3rd, 2000 4 months after he was diagnosed with cancer. Orr, who co-founded "The Cars" with front-man Ric Ocasek, had continued to work until his death at the age of 53.

Born Benjamin Orzechowski on September 8th, 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio, Ben Orr was the son of Czech and Russian parents who were both singers. The Orzechowski family encouraged Ben's pursuit of music, and as a child he mastered piano, drums, guitar and bass. In interviews, Orr, an admitted Elvis Presley fanatic, credited his parents with tenacious defense of his goals, recalling that they often squared off with his high school faculty over his long hair and frequent absences from classes when paying jobs came his way.

Orr quit school when his band "The Grasshoppers" became a regular feature on a local music television show, "Upbeat". The Draft for the Vietnam War claimed key band members, however, and in the midst of their reign as local teen idols "The Grasshoppers" dissolved. Orr narrowly avoided military service himself, and without "The Grasshoppers" established a partnership with fellow Ohio native Ric Ocasek. Ocasek and Orr founded "The Cars" in Boston in 1976.

Riding the crest of New Wave music in the late 1970s and 80s, Orr and the wraith-like Ocasek led "The Cars" to music and video chart success, where they were pioneers in the early days of computer video effects and animation. Trading off with Ocasek as the group's lead vocalist, Orr provided the vocals for the majority of "The Cars" biggest hits, including "Just What I Needed", "Candy-O", "Let's Go" and "Bye Bye Love". As "The Cars" moved closer to disbanding, which came in 1986 after 10 years of hits and heavy touring, Orr handled the vocals on one of their most critically and popularly acclaimed songs, "Drive". The song's video topped MTV and VH1 play and featured Ocasek's wife, super model Paulina.

Following the split of "The Cars" in 1986 Orr released a solo album, "The Lace" which spawned the hit single "Stay The Night". Orr also chartered a self-named band, "Orr" and more recently formed "Big People" with members of Ted Nugent's group and ".38 Special". The Atlanta-based "Big People" set a tour schedule for 2000 including charity performances as Orr was discovering in May, 2000 that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer.

Orr chose to move forward and continued to work despite the severity of his illness, telling friends and family it was his wish to keep playing, and "If I fall down and can't get up, you'll know its over." Orr reunited with Ocasek and fellow members of "The Cars" Elliot Easton, Dave Robinson and Greg Hawkes to film interviews for the DVD documentary "The Cars Live", to make its November 2000 release schedule. Orr toured with "Big People", and played a final show on September 27th in Alaska before returning to his home in Atlanta to rest before a benefit for the March of Dimes scheduled for October 6th, 2000.

Benjamin Orr died at his home surrounded by family and friends shortly before midnight on October 3rd, 2000. "Big People" planned to play the benefit concert for The March of Dimes at Atlanta's Tabernacle, dedicating the fund raising show to Orr's memory. Rhino Records announced that a portion of the profits from the sales of "The Cars Live" on DVD through Rhino Home Video will be donated to the National Pancreas Foundation. Donations may additionally be made to The Benjamin Orr Memorial Fund, Box 600590, Newtonville MA 02460.

Benjamin Orr's survivors include his fiancee, Julie Snider.