Richard Wright, the founding member of Pink Floyd whose piano and synthesizer work played a critical part in the pioneering British psychedelic rock band’s ethereal sound, died Monday after a short battle with cancer, his spokesman said. He was 65.
Doug Wright, who is not a relative, said Wright died at his home in England and that his family did not wish to release any more information, the Associated Press reported.
Wright never achieved the high public profile of the group’s three key figures -- founding singer-guitarist Syd Barrett and the often-feuding co-leaders, singer-bassist Roger Waters and singer-guitarist David Gilmour, who joined shortly before Barrett left in 1968.
But he wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s songs, and frequently provided a crucial component of the Pink Floyd sound. On the group’s landmark “Dark Side of the Moon” album, Wright was responsible for the thick electric piano chording on the 1973 hit “Money” as well as the swirling organ lines and classically inspired grand piano on “Us and Them,” a song he wrote with Waters.
He also co-wrote “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” one of the group’s signature songs from “Wish You Were Here,” the second of five Floyd albums to reach No. 1. The nine-part epic song is a salute to Barrett, who, after leaving the group, retreated into mental illness, often attributed to his drug use. He died in 2006.
Wright had no explanation for the astonishing longevity of the “Dark Side” album -- it spent more time, 741 weeks, on the Billboard album chart than any other in history -- or the extraordinary following the band inspired. The 1979 album “The Wall” spent 15 weeks at No. 1 and has been certified for worldwide sales of 23 million copies by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, putting it third on the list of all-time best sellers, behind “The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
“I know we’ve made some great songs and great music,” Wright told Billboard last year, “but I can’t tell you why we’re so popular.”
He quit the band in 1980 following their tour supporting the double album “The Wall” because of increasing tensions within the group.
He rejoined the band a few years later, and, without Waters, the group put out “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” in 1987 and “The Division Bell” seven years later.
In recent years Waters has been playing “Dark Side of the Moon” in concert under his own name without any of the other original band members. Waters, Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason performed live together for the first time in 24 years at the 2005 Live 8 benefit concert in London.
Wright released two solo albums, “Wet Dreams” in 1978 and “Broken China” in 1996, but neither made Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart.
In a 2006 interview with the Independent newspaper in London discussing the DVD release of Pink Floyd’s 1994 concert tour, Wright talked about the group’s celebrated concerts, which helped expand the boundaries of what rock was capable of in a live setting through elaborate lighting and staging effects.
“One of the things I always regret about being in Pink Floyd is that you can never go to see the show. I have no idea what it looks like. We know it’s pretty powerful, but when you’re on stage you have no clear idea of it.”
Richard William Wright was born July 28, 1943, in Hatch End, in northwest London.
Early on he demonstrated an interest in classical and jazz piano, and his parents sent him to the exclusive Haberdasher’s Aske’s School as a boy and then, when he was 17, to the Regent Street School of Architecture, where he met Waters and Mason.
About six months after they started playing together, they met Barrett.
“It was great when Syd joined,” Wright once said. “Before him, we’d play the R & B classics, because that’s what all groups were supposed to then. But I never liked R & B very much. I was actually more of a jazz fan.
“With Syd, the direction changed, it became more improvised around the guitar and keyboards.
“Roger started playing the bass as a lead instrument, and I started to introduce more of my classical feel.”
Barrett’s tenure with the group was as profound as it was short-lived. They recorded a couple of singles that were hits in England, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” and their 1967 debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” shortly after which the others essentially kicked Barrett out because of his increasingly erratic behavior.
Wright is survived by sons Ben and Jamie, daughter Gala and a grandson, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.