- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Otis Blackwell, a prolific songwriter who wrote the signature hits "Don't Be Cruel" for Elvis Presley and "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis, died Monday night. He was 70.

Mr. Blackwell was pronounced dead on arrival at Saint Thomas Hospital of an apparent heart attack, said hospital spokesman Paul Lindsey.

Mr. Blackwell wrote more than 1,000 songs that were recorded by performers including Ray Charles, Billy Joel, the Who, James Taylor, Otis Redding and Peggy Lee as well as Mr. Presley and Mr. Lewis.

Among his biggest hits were "Return to Sender" and "All Shook Up," recorded by Mr. Presley, "Breathless" by Mr. Lewis, "Handy Man" by Mr. Taylor and "Fever" by Miss Lee.

"I wrote, went home and prayed," Mr. Blackwell said in 1989. "It makes me feel wonderful for other people to do my songs and have them still be around and have people still wanting to do them."

He was credited with writing songs that sold more than 185 million copies.

Mr. Blackwell, born in New York City, grew up wanting to be a singer. As a young man, he worked as a penny-a-day floor sweeper at a Brooklyn theater and later as a clothes presser.

While recording songs for a small company in New York, he was asked to write songs as well.

"I was thrown into it," Mr. Blackwell said.

Mr. Blackwell often sang the songs himself before they were recorded, and some music historians believe his style influenced Mr. Presley's. Mr. Presley died in 1977.

"I don't know except that we both sound alike," Mr. Blackwell said. "I used to do quite a few demos of songs I didn't write songs that were his style. It was easy writing for him. When I would do these things, I would figure this is me singing, and this is the way he would sing them. So it came real easy."

Mr. Blackwell never met Mr. Presley and said in 1989 that his relationship with the singer was best kept at a distance.

"We had just a great thing going, and I just wanted to leave it alone. I just wanted to keep writing and let him do the singing."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.


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