Johnny Nash, the angel-voiced reggae-pop singer-songwriter who had U.S. hits with “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Stir It Up” and “Hold Me Tight,” died Tuesday at his home in Houston. He was 80. No cause of death was revealed.
Nash scored a pop smash in 1972 with his self-penned “I Can See Clearly Now,” which spent a month at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. He followed up that success with a cover of reggae legend Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” that just missed the top 10. Nash’s first big pop hit was “Hold Me Tight,” which reached No. 5 in 1968.
But he remains best known for “I Can See Clearly Now,” the islands-tinged soft-rock classic that has been featured in dozens of films anf TV shows and famously was covered by reggae icon Jimmy Cliff for the 1993 John Candy movie Cool Runnings (watch the video of Cliff’s cover below). That version hit the top 20 on Billboard’s singles chart. Nash’s version was heard in such popular screen fare as Thelma & Louise, Grosse Pointe Blank, Antz, Crooklyn, The Wonder Years and The Boondocks.
Eddie Van Halen Dies: Guitar Legend Who Influenced Hard-Rock Generations Was 65
He first started hitting on pop radio in the late 1950s, with “A Very Special Love” and “The Teen Commandments” reaching the top 30. The latter was a spoken-word inspiration talk that also featured his ABC-Paramount labelmates Paul Anka and future film star George Hamilton. Three of his LPs made the national chart, with 1972’s I Can See Clearly Now — which also featured “Stir It Up — reaching No. 23.
Nash’s career took off after he began recording in Jamaica in 1967, but his commercial peak was short-lived, and he only managed to dent the pop chart a couple of times after 1973.
Born on August 19, 1940 in Houston, Nash began appearing on local TV in his hometown at age 13 and went on to appear frequently on Arthur Godfrey’s radio and TV shows from the mid-1950s through 1963.
He also enjoyed a brief film career, co-starring as a member of Dennis Hopper’s L.A. street gang in the 1960 noir Key Witness. He also starred in the socially conscious 1959 drama Take a Giant Step, which scored a Golden Globe nom for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. Nash also received the Silver Sail at the 1960 Locarno International Film Festival, an award given for the humanity and intensity of his performance. Nash also co-topped the 1971 Swedish drama Love Is Not a Game.
Nash also appeared on numerous performance TV shows including American Bandstand, Soul Train, Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert, Top of the Pops and The Midnight Special, along with such popular talk shows as The Tonight Show — both Jack Paar’s and Johnny Carson’s — and The Mike Douglas Show.