Tragic Details About The Cars

When The Cars released their debut album, it didn't take long for the world to discover them. It didn't take them long to put out the music that would make them famous, either: They got together in 1976, released their debut album in 1978, and thanks in large part to a Boston DJ named Maxanne Sartori, they shot straight to the top of the charts. 

Their popularity has been unparalleled: Millions of records sold, weeks at the top of the charts, and scores of musicians that followed them counted them among their inspirations. And really, it doesn't get much better than knowing your creative endeavors don't just mean something in the moment but will continue to endure and inspire.

The Cars had a pretty good run and managed to avoid some of the catastrophic events that destroy many bands. There's no Lynyrd Skynrd-level plane crashes, no too-early, gone-too-soon deaths from drug overdoses, and no headline-making scandals. When Vulture spoke with Elliot Easton and asked him not only about the good but the bad in the band's history, he laughed at the idea of the bad: "The band did so well! What do I have to complain about?" That said, there are a few things that The Cars stumbled over, and a handful of regrets. Everyone has regrets, after all, so what are theirs?

Ric Ocasek's childhood left lasting scars

Details on Ric Ocasek's childhood are scarce, but according to what his third wife, Paulina Porizkova, told Rolling Stone, that's by design. Porizkova shared the fact that she had always been surprised that so many people overlooked the dark tone, ideas, and concepts often buried in his lyrics: "When people sing a song like 'Let the Good Times Roll' unironically ... did they pay attention to the lyrics? Do you know what you're singing? These are not happy, cheerful lyrics. The darker stuff is more who he was as a person ... He really tried to put his childhood aside and not revisit it. But what was underneath was a lot of pain."

Ocasek himself seemed to hint at the fact that there were some things better left in the past when — in response to a question about a Cars reunion, he explained: "As a rule, I'd rather live in the future than the past."

Porizkova shared a few details about what it was like for him, growing up in Baltimore in the years surrounding the tail end of World War II. She revealed that his home life was such an unhappy one that he would frequently run away for weeks at a time, and that it wasn't his parents at all that encouraged his musical endeavors, it was his grandmother. "His mom drank a lot, and his father was pretty cold to him," she explained. And when he was still a teenager, his life was uprooted in a move to Cleveland.

Fame wasn't all it was cracked up to be

The Cars hit it big almost right out of the gate, but according to those who knew Ric Ocasek best, it was hard. Even as The Cars were dominating airways and charts alike, Ocasek was already turning to producing, plucking bands from the underground art-and-music scenes. When keyboardist Greg Hawkes spoke with Rolling Stone about the group's enigmatic lead singer, he suggested that it wasn't just because he wanted to give talented musicians a leg up, it was sort of because he envied them. "In a way, Ric almost would've been happier if he could have been in a band like Suicide. A more or less artier, outside band," Hawkes explained.

And that was just the beginning. Ocasek, he says, wasn't just unhappy with some of their hits but was downright embarrassed by some of the songs he saw as just too basic and not at all what he had in mind for the direction his music was going. (Like which songs? "Shake It Up" in particular.)

Did it improve? The opposite: Hawkes says that the process of recording with Mutt Lange had been nothing short of soul-sucking: "For a while, it inspired him, but the fame thing wore him down. It just seemed like it became more of a chore for him." If it seems like Ocasek was enjoying the process? Not so much: He told those they were working with that he never wanted to experience anything like it ever again.

The band's best friends regretted their long-term split

Some bands come together because great musicians recognize talent, and others come together because those talented musicians were honest-to-gosh friends first. That was the case with The Cars: Formed around Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr, the two had been friends for a decade before manifesting The Cars. They'd played in other groups together, and more than that, those who knew them best described them to Rolling Stone as "inseparable."

Until, that is, they split amid a perfect storm of outside pressures and inside personality conflicts. Part of the slow burn that led to an end of a decades-long friendship came around the stress of recording "Door to Door." Keyboardist Greg Hawkes told Rolling Stone just how bad it was: Disagreements between Orr and Ocasek continued to escalate, to the point where, in hindsight, Hawkes thought they could have used an outside mediator.

By the time they kicked off their last tour, they couldn't even bear to be on the same bus. According to Ocasek, a few things happened: "He was drinking a little much," he explained, and added that perhaps the thing he was most offended by was Orr's suggestion that he and his then-girlfriend be allowed to write some songs. "We were the best of friends forever, sometimes we played his songs. But dear Ben — I could never get into the lyrics. I almost didn't want them part of the thing. Maybe it was the controlling." The Cars — and a decades-long friendship — was over.

Benjamin Orr's death

The Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, and by then, founding member Benjamin Orr had already been gone for 18 years. Ric Ocasek spoke at the induction, saying, "It's quite strange to be here without him" (via Sky News). He and Orr only mended fences very shortly before his death in 2000, and it's a stark reminder of just how fleeting life can be. Orr, who had pancreatic cancer, was just 53 years old at his death.

Orr's fiancé, Julie Snider, organized a private memorial ceremony for him at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and old friends, family, and band members turned out to share their fondest remembrances. It was Cars' keyboardist Greg Hawkes who shared (via Rolling Stone), "Ben was the real rock star of the band. ... On the morning I heard Ben died, I put on a couple of Cars albums ... just to hear his voice."

Ric Ocasek was a notoriously private person: It's telling, then, that he spoke even a bit about the loss of his longtime friend. When The Cars finally did reunite for "Move Like This," Ocasek told Rolling Stone there was clearly something missing: "I miss his singing, being thrilled by it. Maybe if Ben had called sometimes and said, 'Let's do it again,' I would have thought about it." That reunion, though, would never happen.

Everything about The New Cars

Greg Graffin of Bad Religion was one of the musicians that Ric Ocasek took under his wing post-Cars and has said (via Rolling Stone) that Ocasek was 100% positive there would be no Cars reunion, and they certainly would never go on tour again. Ocasek ended up being in the minority.

The other members of The Cars did get together and ended up approaching Ocasek in a more formal way. He was working for Elektra when someone made the proposition on their behalf, and it didn't go well: "Lawyers got involved. It must have cost a ton of money in legal fees that I wasted, the Cars wasted, for ... no reason," Ocasek told Rolling Stone. Was there bitterness there? Undoubtedly: Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes ended up touring very, very briefly as The New Cars, and the end of the partial reunion — which came when Easton broke his collarbone in a tour-related accident — was met with some laughter from Ocasek.

Drummer David Robinson had initially pushed for the reunion but backed out and didn't participate. When — years later — Rolling Stone asked him what happened, he gave a mysterious response that Ocasek would have been proud of: "Umm ... umm ... It was, for me, not the kind of comeback I would have wanted. It wasn't the right situation for us all to be back together in. ... I had an idea of what we should do, and it wasn't that type of thing."

Ric Ocasek's death

Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkov married in 1989, and although they had officially separated several years prior, she was caring for him after he had surgery in 2019. It was she, too, who found him after he had passed, writing on Instagram, "I found him still asleep when bringing him his Sunday morning coffee. ... It was then I realized that during the night he had peacefully passed on." His sons posted a farewell message via The Cars Twitter account, sharing the last drawing he'd doodled. On it, he'd written, "Keep on Laughin'" and "It is What it is." His sons posted, "He couldn't have known what it would end up meaning to us. We love him so much."

Shortly after his death, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York announced that his cause of death was hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, coupled with emphysema. According to the Cleveland Clinic, atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, and hypertensive heart disease happens when long-term, chronic high blood pressure overworks and ultimately overloads the heart.

Ocasek discovered, helped, and produced countless albums for other bands, but it was Weezer who shared on Instagram (in part) "... he taught us that one can be in a respected position of great power and yet be absolutely humble and have the biggest sweetest heart in the industry. Ric was so kind to us ... When you were his friend, it was for life."

Yes, there was the potential for more music

Was there the potential for more Cars music? Yes, but the death of Ric Ocasek put an end to any thoughts of another album or more songs. Instead of another catchy hit, their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was the last time they'd perform.

Drummer David Robinson sat down to chat with The Other Cape, and after touching on what it was like to work on their "Move Like This" reunion, he said that he'd been almost overwhelmed by how much had changed since they'd started. And it had been such a success that he'd been looking ahead to another: "I was just hoping that we could make some songs. I always wanted him to do one song at a time. I always wanted him to do a James Bond movie — one great song every once in a while." But when he learned about his friend's death, "It really struck that there would be no more Cars music."

Elliot Easton had a similar thing to say to Vulture. "If Ric hadn't passed, we would've done more work together. We had such a fantastic time at the Rock Hall of Fame induction, and it reignited a spark. ... There was a lot of healing. We left that on a really positive note, and there would've been an excellent chance for another project."

Ric Ocasek's complicated relationships

Ric Ocasek's two youngest sons (pictured) might have posted a heartfelt tribute to their father, but his son Chris Otcasek posted a very different tribute to Instagram: The photo showed the Cars lead singer with his two eldest sons, Chris and Adam Otcasek. It was captioned, "You don't exist. We didn't either."

He had some equally harsh words for Page Six, explaining that Ocasek divorced their mother when she was six months pregnant with Adam. Chris claimed that they had rarely heard from him: "He didn't have the sort of conscience to keep him grounded, so he just kept going ... even if that meant abandoning or neglecting his children. That was fine with him. I don't think he thought much about it."

That's in spite of the fact that they all lived relatively close together. Chris said that when he was old enough, he headed to Los Angeles simply because it was the farthest from his father that he could get. "I was living a few blocks from him for a year or two, and saw him once, maybe. And I just decided I had to get as far away as possible." Still, he couldn't get away from seeing him on the television or hearing him on the radio, and he's said it was incredibly painful. After Ocasek's death, it was revealed that both Chris and Adam had been written out of his will. So was his last wife (pictured), who settled with his estate in 2021 and received an undisclosed sum.