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Psychedelic Furs and Waitresses saxophonist Mars Williams has died, aged 68.
The news was shared by The Chicago Tribune, which reported that the musician died yesterday (November 20) from ampullary cancer. He was diagnosed with the illness just less than one year ago.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, Williams famously performed in the Chicago free jazz group NRG Ensemble and with the Waitresses, before going on to join the iconic English rock band Psychedelic Furs in 1983.
His initial time as part of the band lasted six years, and he departed the line-up in 1989. He then rejoined Richard Butler and Co. in 2005, and most recently joined them on their 2023 tour.
Following news of his passing, William’s family shared a statement with fans, remembering him for both his “inexhaustible humour” and his unwavering “love for music” – both of which they say helped “push him forward” during his illness.
“It’s with great sadness that we send this message to let the many people who loved and supported Mars Williams know that he passed away earlier today after his year-long struggle with cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends, both in person and around the world, who held him close, and loved him dearly,” the statement read.
“Until the end, Mars’ inexhaustible humour and energy, and his love for music, pushed him forward. As it became clear in late summer that his treatment options were coming to an end, he chose to spend six weeks of the time he had left living as he had since he was a teenager – out on the road performing night after night,” it added.
“Those last performances with the Psychedelic Furs will live on with all of the other incredible contributions that Mars has made as a person, and as a musician, and that boundless energy will continue to inspire.”
Aside from his time as part of Psychedelic Furs and Waitresses, Williams also founded the acid jazz group Liquid Soul, which later went on to perform at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. He also worked as a session musician, teaming up with the likes of Billy Idol, The Killers, Dirty Projectors, Witches & Devils, and more.
“We’re heartbroken,” wrote Psychedelic Furs in a tribute to the saxophonist. “Goodbye to the great Mars Williams. Rest well.”
Goodbye to the great Mars Williams.
Rest well. 1955 – 2023. pic.twitter.com/tuCALIQOv2
— The Psychedelic Furs (@pfurs) November 21, 2023
Roger O’Donnell also shared a moving tribute to his bandmate, writing: “[It] probably won’t make any headlines but it should for he was a truly one of a kind musician and person. Mars Williams who I played with for one very long year in the Eighties with The Psychedelic Furs is gone.”
In a follow-up post, he added: “Reeveski saw Mars play a few weeks ago and said he was playing better than ever, that’s [the] finest testimony for me… love you Mars.”
Probably wont make any headlines but it should for he was a truly one of a kind musician and person. Mars Williams who I played with for one very long year in the Eighties with The Psychedelic Furs is gone… X Love you Mars
— Roger O’Donnell (@RogerODonnellX) November 21, 2023
Reeveski saw Mars play a few weeks ago and said he was playing better than ever, thats finest testimony for me… love you Mars pic.twitter.com/zqClxjxeuQ
— Roger O’Donnell (@RogerODonnellX) November 21, 2023
Instrumentalist Jeff Tobias also shared a tribute to the late musician, celebrating his “ability to pivot between arty mainstream success and a legit underground career”.
Music author Aaron Cohen agreed, adding: “The holidays in Chicago won’t be the same without Mars Williams leading the charge with his thrilling Albert Ayler-ized Christmas celebrations. Mars showed that having a wide musical palette means having a lot of fun. My deepest condolences to his family and legions of students.”
Find more tributes below.
RIP to Mars Williams. Nothing brought me to life musically like a Liquid Soul show. Ever. https://t.co/s5hr52nj8B
— Jay Zawaski (@jayzawaski) November 21, 2023
I volunteered at this unreal Mars Williams gig at the Stone in 2017. I leapt out of my chair from sheer excitement at least once. His ability to pivot between arty mainstream success and a legit underground career is enviable, but beyond that, he was just a great player. RIP. pic.twitter.com/OLqalsiHlh
— jazz in Space (@JeffTobiasSPAC) November 21, 2023
The holidays in Chicago won’t be the same without Mars Williams leading the charge with his thrilling Albert Ayler-ized Christmas celebrations. Mars showed that having a wide musical palette means having a lot of fun. My deepest condolences to his family and legions of students. pic.twitter.com/RGAP4Rh9RR
— Aaron Cohen (@aaroncohenwords) November 21, 2023
Deeply saddened to learn that the great Mars Williams has died. He played as fiercely in rock/pop settings with The Psychadelic Furs and Waitresses as he did freewheeling music with the Vandermark 5, NRG Ensemble, Peter Brötzmann, and in many collabs with Norwegian musicians. RIP pic.twitter.com/RGKzmo9ltt
— Chris Monsen @chrismonsen.bsky.social (@chris_monsen) November 21, 2023
To celebrate his life and work, those who were close to Williams have organised a benefit show in his honour.
Set to take place later this week (November 25), the event will be titled ‘Music For Mars’ and is scheduled to be held at Chicago’s Metro.
Performers for the upcoming show include Liquid Soul, The Joe Marcinek Band, and Jesse De La Peña. Special guests set to appear are Richard Butler, Zachary Alford, Rich Good of Psychedelic Furs; Jeff Coffin of Dave Matthews Band, Guns N’ Roses’ Richard Fortus, and Ike Reilly.