Guitarist Jeff Healey dies at 41

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TORONTO -- Legendary Canadian blues guitarist Jeff Healey died Sunday in a Toronto hospital after a battle with cancer. He was 41.

Healey, who lost his sight as an infant because of a rare form of cancer, began playing guitar when he was 3, quickly utilizing his unique and unconventional style that saw him place the guitar across his lap. He formed his first band as a teenager, but struggled, dropping out of school before creating the Jeff Healey Band.

"If this band had not come together within another year after it did, (my father) would have insisted that I go back to college for broadcasting, which is another one of my major interests," he said in an interview in 2000.

Healey was soon gaining a reputation as a blues virtuoso, and commercial success followed. His debut album, "See the Light," was released to acclaim and strong sales in 1988 and included a hit in the song "Angel Eyes." A memorable role in the 1989 Patrick Swayze film "Road House" followed, as did rock hits such as "Full Circle," "I Think I Love You Too Much," "How Long Can a Man Be Strong" and "Heart of an Angel." He earned a Juno Award in 1990 as entertainer of the year.

His career jumped stylistic boundaries, with Healey pushing his creativity forward, often to the detriment of commercial opportunities. He sold more than 5 million albums over his career.

"You are only as successful as what it looks like will happen tomorrow," he said in 2000. "And I think that unless you have a couple of multimillion-selling albums and invest the money you make off that wisely, you're never out of danger."

Healey had fought various forms of cancer since 2005. His first rock/blues album in eight years, "Mess of Blues," is scheduled for release in Europe on March 20 and in North America on April 22.

Healey also was a radio DJ on shows for CBC Radio and Toronto's Jazz-FM.

Healey is survived by his wife, Cristie, daughter Rachel and son Derek. Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending.

Billboard senior editor Jonathan Cohen contributed to this report.
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