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In a 2009 interview, Clemons described his deep bond with Springsteen, saying: “It’s the most passion that you have without sex.”

“It’s love. It’s two men _ two strong, very virile men _ finding that space in life where they can let go enough of their masculinity to feel the passion of love and respect and trust,” he added.

Clemons continued to perform with the band for the next 12 years, contributing his big, distinctive big sound to the albums, “The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle,” “Born to Run,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town, “The River” and “Born in the USA.” But four years after Springsteen experienced the blockbuster success of “Born in the USA” and toured with his group, he decided to disband the E Street Band.

“There were a few moments of tension,” the saxophonist recalled in a 1995 interview. “You’ve been together 18, 19 years. It’s like your wife coming to you: `I want a divorce.’ You start wondering why? Why? But you get on with your life.”

During the breaks, Clemons continued with solo projects, including a 1985 vocal duet with Browne on the single “You’re a Friend of Mine” and saxophone work on Franklin’s 1985 hit single “Freeway of Love.” He released his own albums, toured, and even sang on some songs.

Clemons also made several television and movie appearances over the years, including Martin Scorsese’s 1977 musical, “New York, New York, in which he played a trumpet player.

The break with Springsteen and the E Street Band didn’t end his relationship with either Springsteen or the rest of the band members, nor would it turn out to be permanent. By 1999 they were back together for a reunion tour and the release of “The Rising.”

But the years took a toll on Clemons‘ body, and he had to play through the pain of surgeries and other health woes.

“It takes a village to run the Big Man _ a village of doctors,” Clemons told The Associated Press in a phone interview in 2010. “I’m starting to feel better; I’m moving around a lot better.”

He published a memoir, “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales,” in 2009 and continued to perform.

He is the second member of the E Street Band to pass away: In 2008, Danny Federici, the keyboardist for the band, died at age 58 of melanoma.

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Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in Asbury Park, N.J., contributed to this report.