Michael Stanley, Cleveland’s Hometown Rock Hero, Dies at 72

Michael Stanley, who became known nationally for a radio hit in 1981 but was the very symbol of rock ‘n roll for decades in the city of Cleveland, died Friday at age 72. The cause of death was lung cancer that had been diagnosed seven months earlier.

Stanley’s illness became known when he took leave of his usual afternoon radio shift at Cleveland’s 98.5 WNCX in late February and the station released a statement requesting prayers for his family.

In a letter posted Saturday on the radio station’s website, Stanley wrote a farewell to fans: “Hey gang… Well, if you’re reading this then I am off to catch up with that big club tour in the sky. But before the bus pulls out I wanted to thank all of you for being a part of my musical journey…. Somebody once said that if you love your job then it’s not really work. And if that’s true (and I definitely think it is) then I have been happily out of work for over 50 years! Sure it would have been nice if this had all lasted a bit longer but my time on this mortal coil has been blessed with great family, friends and coworkers and you can’t ask for much more than that!… Take care of yourself and each other and remember, now more than ever: It’s your world… pay attention! Peace.”

Joe Walsh, another Cleveland rock hero — and a player on Stanley’s second album in the 1970s — paid homage. “Michael was the king of Cleveland, and of course the Michael Stanley Band became a Midwest powerhouse,” Walsh said in a statement published at Cleveland.com. “Michael has always been a master at the craft of songwriting. His songs have a way of getting in your head and became songs you end up singing to yourself over and over from then on… His music will always be part of me.”

Stanley started out as a solo artist in 1973 with two albums in a more subdued singer/songwriter vein before forming the Michael Stanley Band, whose 1975 debut on Epic Records, “You Break It… You Bought It,” introduced the more robust, arena-friendly anthems that the group came to be known for. The MSB had its biggest national profile in 1980 when the single “He Can’t Love You” reached No. 33 on the Billboard 100. But before and after that, the band was disproportionately huge in Ohio and surrounding states, which took their song “Midwest Midnight” (introduced on the live album “Stage Pass,” with its famous cleavage-baring cover) to heart as a statement of regional pride. In its late ’70s/early ’80s heyday, the Michael Stanley Band headlined Cleveland’s Coliseum and would sell out multiple nights at the Blossom Music Center.

Greg Harris, president/CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, released a statement saying: “It is with a heavy heart that we share that Cleveland’s native son and local treasure Michael Stanley has passed away. Michael was our city’s most beloved musician, songwriter and rocker. His heartland music resonated with legions of listeners, and his concerts set attendance records and took on mythic proportions. Even more importantly, Michael’s songs spoke to our hearts.

“As fans we adored and revered him, and in return he loved us right back,” Harris continued. “The energy of his music and its ability to bring people together helped to make Cleveland the Rock and Roll Capitol of the World, and it galvanized the community to rally together and make our city the home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We will miss Michael dearly. My sincere condolences go out to the Stanley family on the passing of Michael. His contributions to rock and roll and our region will not be forgotten, and we are honored to preserve his legacy and tell his story forever at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”


A statement from his family said that the singer/songwriter (and, in his final act, DJ) — full name Michael Stanley Gee — had “passed away peacefully at home on March 5th with his family by his side… Michael battled lung cancer for seven months with the same strength and dignity he carried throughout his life. He will always be remembered as a loving father, brother, husband, a loyal friend, and the leader of one of Cleveland’s most successful rock bands.”

The funeral service will be private, and Stanley will be buried at Lake View Cemetery, the family said.

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