The inspirational story of Teddy Pendergrass' Live Aid comeback after car crash paralysed him

9 October 2020, 16:14 | Updated: 9 October 2020, 17:31

Teddy Pendergrass
Teddy Pendergrass. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Teddy Pendergrass had one of the most powerful soul voices of all time, both during his time with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and his successful solo career.

With a documentary about his life titled You Don't Know Me out now, we take a look back at the life of an underrated talent, and how a devastating accident didn't stop him.

  1. Who was Teddy Pendergrass?

    Teddy Pendergrass - Turn Off The Lights [Live In '82 DVD]

    Teddy Pendergrass was a popular American singer.

    Born in Philadelphia in 1950, he first found fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

    After leaving the group over money disputes in 1976, Pendergrass scored a successful solo career, releasing five consecutive platinum albums, a record at the time for a black R&B artist.

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    With the Blue Notes, he sang tracks including 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' and 'Don't Leave Me This Way'.

    As a solo artist, his biggest hits included 'Close the Door', 'Only You' and 'Turn Off the Lights'.

  2. Why did he quit the Blue Notes?


    By 1975, Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin were not getting along, and were clashing over financial issues and personality differences.

    While Pendergrass sang most of the group's songs, Melvin was in charge of the group's finances.

    At one stage, Pendergrass wanted the group to be renamed 'Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes', as fans kept mistaking him for Melvin.

    Pendergrass quit the group in 1975, and the Blue Notes failed to recapture their success with his replacements.

    They never managed to find success again, but still carried on until Melvin's death in 1997.

  3. A car crash paralysed him for life

    Teddy Pendergrass in 1986
    Teddy Pendergrass in 1986. Picture: Getty

    Teddy Pendergrass's career was largely stalled on March 18, 1982.

    In Philadelphia, Pendergrass was involved in a serious car crash.

    He lost control of his Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, the car hit a guard rail, crossed into the oncoming lane, and hit two trees.

    Pendergrass and his passenger, Tenika Watson, a nightclub performer who he had just met, were trapped in the wreckage for 45 minutes.

    While Watson survived with minor injuries, Pendergrass tragically suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him a paraplegic, paralyzed from the chest down for the rest of his life.

    Despite this, he continued to record music, releasing several successful albums, until his retirement in 2007.

    Speaking ahead of a tour in 2002, he opened up about his disability, saying: "Something put me out of the business that was not my doing, not my fault. I've harboured some resentment for that.

    "At the same time, I've accepted my disability and moved on with my life. I do other things. I've always wanted to know I could do it again, in spite of my disability.

    "This proves to me I can. I have. Others can. It's just a wonderfully glorious opportunity that I've been given, and I'm just taking total advantage of it."

  4. He made an emotional comeback at Live Aid

    Ashford & Simpson / Teddy Pendergrass - Reach Out And Touch (Live Aid 1985)

    On July 13, 1985, Teddy Pendergrass made a triumphant return to the stage at the Live Aid concert in his hometown of Philadelphia, in front of a live audience of over 99,000 and 1.5 billion TV viewers.

    Aged 35 at the time, it was his first live performance following the accident.

    Pendergrass tearfully thanked the audience, and performed Diana Ross's 'Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)' alongside Ashford & Simpson.

  5. When did Teddy Pendergrass pass away?

    On June 5, 2009, Teddy Pendergrass had successful surgery for colon cancer and returned home.

    Sadly, just a few weeks later, he returned to the hospital with respiratory issues.

    After seven months, he died of respiratory failure on January 13, 2010.

    He was aged just 59.

  6. Who was Teddy Pendergrass's wife and did he have children?

    Teddy Pendergrass and his first wife Karen in 1990
    Teddy Pendergrass and his first wife Karen in 1990. Picture: Getty

    Teddy Pendergrass had three children: Tisha, LaDonna, and Theodore Jr.

    In June 1987, he married a former dancer named Karen Still, but they divorced in 2002.

    In 2006, he met Joan Williams, and proposed four months later. They married in a private ceremony on Easter Sunday, 2008.