Bruce Springsteen eloquently eulogized his friend of more than four decades and E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons Tuesday at a private funeral at a small Florida church.
The roughly two-hour service for the 69-year-old Clemons, known as the Big Man and Springsteen’s main foil onstage over their long careers, was at the Royal Poinciana Chapel on this manicured island of the rich and famous. Faint strains of music could be heard outside the small gray church.
Springsteen, among those delivering eulogies, spoke of his long kinship with Clemons, according to those leaving the church.
Singer Jackson Browne and members of the E Street Band, including guitarist Steven Van Zandt and Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, also were on hand. Miami Heat general manager Pat Riley was seen leaving the church, which is beside the historic estate of tycoon Henry Flagler and nearby the tony Breakers hotel.
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The 6-foot-5 Clemons had suffered from numerous medical problems over the years. He needed spinal surgery to relieve back pain and had two knee replacements. In recent years, he often needed to rest on stools onstage to play sax and percussion. He died from stroke complications Saturday at his home in Singer Island, Fla.
Clemons’ booming saxophone solos became a signature sound for the E Street Band on many key songs, especially on Springsteen’s breakthrough album in 1975, “Born to Run.”
The saxophonist’s legacy and place in the band was captured in the song, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” It has the famous lyric, “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. From the coastline to the city, all the little pretties raised their hands.”
The anthem is often used to introduce E Street members during concerts.
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Clemons, who was the oldest member of the E Street Band, also performed with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Ringo Starr’s All Star Band. He recorded with a wide range of artists including Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Jackson Browne. He also had his own band called the Temple of Soul.
More recently, he was introduced to a whole new generation of fans when he performed his signature tenor sax on Lady Gaga’s video, “The Edge of Glory.”
In a statement posted on his Internet site, Springsteen said, “Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them want to love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every time he stepped on stage.”
Gail Reich Ampolsky came from Marlboro, N.J., for the funeral. She said she was a lifelong fan of Clemons whom the musician had befriended. Springsteen and his bandmates, including Clemons, met and got their start in New Jersey.
“He touched everybody’s life in so many ways,” she said after the service. “He was just a big teddy bear. He was just wonderful. He was a huge part of the band and he was a huge part of life.”
Gyorgy Lakatos, a musician who said Clemons performed on his forthcoming album, said Springsteen’s eulogy was among the most moving parts of the service.
“Bruce was talking so beautiful,” he said.
Many of the mourners slipped away outside the view of a small group of media, riding off in a string of Bentleys, Mercedes and BMWs. A small group milled around in the distance on the church property hours after the service finished, as a large photo of a beaming Clemons was loaded into the back of a black SUV.
“It was a great show, man,” one man said after leaving the service.
As mourners converged in Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lauded Clemons in an executive order as “a gifted musician, remarkable performer and iconic figure.” Christie also ordered flags lowered to half-staff in the musician’s honor Thursday.
“Through his accomplishments and achievements in the entertainment industry and his contributions to the cultural identity of New Jersey, Clarence Clemons has made New Jersey a better place,” the order read.