Mars Williams, The Psychedelic Furs’ Saxophonist, Dies Aged 68
Mars Williams, the renowned saxophonist who played a significant role in bands including The Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses, died on Monday. He was 68.
The Chicago Tribune revealed the news, noting that the Chicago area native died after a year-long battle with ampullary cancer. According to a GoFundMe his family set up to help cover treatment costs, Williams was diagnosed with the rare cancer in 2022. The family has since updated the platform with news of his death, issuing the following official statement: “It’s with great sadness that we send this message to let the many people who loved and supported Mars Williams know that he passed away earlier today after his year-long struggle with cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends, both in person and around the world, who held him close, and loved him dearly.”
The note continued, “Until the end, Mars’ inexhaustible humour and energy, and his love for music, pushed him forward. As it became clear in late summer that his treatment options were coming to an end, he chose to spend six weeks of the time he had left living as he had since he was a teenager — out on the road performing night after night. Those last performances with the Psychedelic Furs will live on with all of the other incredible contributions that Mars has made as a person, and as a musician, and that boundless energy will continue to inspire.”
Williams studied jazz at DePaul University before he moved to New York City, where he began playing with the Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses. As part of The Waitresses, he played on songs like his first Hot 100 hit, I Know What Boys Like.
Among the dozens of groups he played with, Williams was for 25 years a member of the Chicago group Liquid Soul, which picked up a Grammy nomination for best contemporary jazz record in 2001. “Poised to rattle your headspace, Chicago’s premier funk-jazz ensemble Liquid Soul have been combining bebop with hip-hop since 1994 with muscular horns, tongue-cutting rappers, and turntable-infested rhythms,” wrote the Village Voice.
Downtown jazz legend John Zorn wrote liner notes for an album Williams did with Hal Russell in 1984 and called him “one of the true saxophone players — someone who takes pleasure in the sheer act of blowing the horn. This tremendous enthusiasm is an essential part of his sound, and it comes through each note every time he plays. Whatever the situation, Mars plays exciting music. In many ways he has succeeded in redefining what versatility means to the modern saxophone player.”
The rock and jazz musicians Williams played with live or on record included Billy Idol (on the “Rebel Yell” tour), the Killers, Power Station, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Ministry, Bill Laswell, Charlie Hunter, Dirty Projectors, Billy Squier, DJ Logic, John Scoffield, Kurt Elling, Jerry Garcia and the Untouchables.