Isaac Hayes obituary – 1942-2008

A look back at the life of the 'Shaft' and 'South Park' man

Isaac Hayes passed away yesterday (August 10) in Memphis after being found unconscious near a treadmill in his home.

He was 65.

Hayes was discovered by his wife, son and his wife’s cousin who returned home from buying groceries to find him on the floor of a downstairs bedroom. After being taken to hospital, Hayes was pronounced dead.


Born August 20, 1942, in Covington, TN, Isaac Hayes was orphaned as a baby and was brought up by his grandparents in a poor rural environment where the family raised their own food.

At 21, Hayes joined the Stax Records family in Memphis and his first paid sessions were as a pianist with Otis Redding in 1964. Going on to work with Booker T And The MGs, The Bar-Kays and Rufus Thomas, Hayes performed as a session musician with a string of acts that created what became known as the Memphis Sound.

His most famous collaboration proved to be ‘Soul Man’ which he co-wrote for Sam And Dave. The track had been inspired by the African-American Civil Rights Movement and specifically Hayes seeing coverage of the 12 Street Detroit Riot on television. He noted that African-American owned and operated institutions were marked with the word “soul” so that rioters did not destroy them.

He co-wrote the track with his regular song-writing partner David Porter, as “a story about one’s struggle to rise above his present conditions. It’s almost a tune [where it’s] kind of like boasting ‘I’m a soul man’. It’s a pride thing”.

Hayes‘ 1969 solo album ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ was groundbreaking. The record put him on the map thanks to his unique style, which introduced new music directions, from his rap-vocals to longer songs.

It was his 1971 album ‘Shaft’ that shot Hayes to stardom. As the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, the album was the first record by a solo black artist to reach the top of both the R&B and Pop charts, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and landing three Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe. The album stayed in the charts for 16 months.


In addition to his music, Hayes forged a successful career as an actor, with roles in over 30 movies including ‘Robin Hood: Men In Tights’, ‘It Could Happen To You’ and ‘Reindeer Games’.

His TV career also flourished as the voice of Nickelodeon‘s ‘Nick At Nite’ and acting roles in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, ‘Sliders’, ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and ‘Girlfriends’.

In 1997 he landed the voice of Chef on animated TV show ‘South Park’, voicing the popular character from the show’s inception until 2006. In character, he scored a UK Number single in 1999 with ‘Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You)’.

Hayes left the show acrimoniously after reportedly being unhappy with an episode which criticised his religion Scientology, with the star reportedly saying at the time “There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.”

However with Hayes suffering a stroke just before his departure from the show, there was some question whether he could have been capable of making such a statement, or the decision by himself.

Inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, Hayes‘s music has been sampled in over 200 songs by the likes of Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Destiny’s Child, Tricky, Portishead and Notorious BIG.

Hayes was married four times and had 12 children. He is survived by his wife Adjowa.

–By our New York staff.

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