Grammy-winning American soul singer Billy Paul, known for his 1972 No. 1 single "Me and Mrs. Jones," has died at the age of 81 after suffering from pancreatic cancer, according to his wife and website.

He died on Sunday at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey, where he lived for 35 years.

"He will be deeply missed forever," Blanche Williams, Paul's wife of 50 years, told Reuters on Monday. "He had a long career of 65 years, and he touched the lives of his fans and friends all over the world." 

Paul, born and raised in north Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was among those connected with the unique Philadelphia soul sound and credited with socially conscious 1960s era civil rights music, his website said.

He began his singing career at age 11 and attended local music schools in Philadelphia, the website said. When he was 16, he played at a local club on the same bill as Charlie Parker, who died later that year.

Paul's growing popularity led to concerts with Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr. and Roberta Flack, the website said.

He changed his name in the early 1960s from Paul Williams to Billy Paul to avoid confusion with other musicians, his wife said. 

Paul was drafted and served in the U.S. Army in 1957 with Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby's son Gary Crosby and other musicians, the website said. Paul and Crosby started a jazz band together and asked Presley to join them, but he said he wanted to take a break from music and work as a jeep driver, according to Paul's website. 

In addition to singing, Paul also boxed in the Army, the website said. 

Paul announced his on-stage retirement in 1989 but he continued to perform live and record. 

Paul filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles against Nike and an advertising agency after the company started airing a commercial in 2000 featuring track and field athlete Marion Jones and Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones."

The lawsuit was successful, and he was awarded an unspecified amount of money in the case, Williams said. 

After the Nike lawsuit, Paul also sued his former record company for unpaid royalties for "Me and Mrs. Jones," and a jury awarded him $500,000, the website said.

 

 

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Tom Brown)