Richard Theodore Otcasek[1] (March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019), known as Ric Ocasek (/ˈkæsɪk/ oh-CASS-ik;[2]), was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. He was the primary vocalist, rhythm guitarist, songwriter, and frontman for the rock band the Cars. In addition to his work with the Cars, Ocasek recorded seven solo albums, and his song "Emotion in Motion" was a top 20 hit in the United States in 1986. Ocasek also worked as a record producer for artists such as Motion City Soundtrack, Suicide, Bad Brains, Weezer, Nada Surf, Guided by Voices, and No Doubt. In 2018, Ocasek was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Cars.[3]

Ric Ocasek
Ocasek in 2009
Ocasek in 2009
Background information
Birth nameRichard Theodore Otcasek
Born(1944-03-23)March 23, 1944
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
OriginCleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedSeptember 15, 2019(2019-09-15) (aged 75)
New York City, U.S.
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
Years active1963–2019
Formerly ofThe Cars
  • Constance Campbell
    (m. 1963; div. 1971)
  • Suzanne Otcasek
    (m. 1971; div. 1988)
  • (m. 1989)

Early lifeEdit

Ocasek was born on March 23, 1944,[a][4][5][6] to a family of Polish[7] descent in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up Catholic.[7][8] When he was 16 years old, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his father worked as a systems analyst with NASA at the Lewis Research Center.[9] He graduated from Maple Heights High School in 1963.[10][11] Ocasek briefly attended Antioch College and Bowling Green State University, but dropped out to pursue a career in music.[12][13]

Ocasek met future Cars bassist Benjamin Orr in Cleveland in 1965 after Ocasek saw Orr performing with his band the Grasshoppers on the Big 5 Show, a local musical variety program.[14] He reconnected with Orr a few years later in Columbus, Ohio, and the two began performing in and booking bands together. They formed a band called ID Nirvana in 1968 and performed in and around Ohio State University.[15]


Early careerEdit

After performing in various bands in Columbus and Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ocasek and Orr relocated to Boston in the early 1970s. There they formed a Crosby, Stills and Nash-style folk rock band called Milkwood. They released one album, How's the Weather, on Paramount Records in early 1973 but it failed to chart. Future Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes played on Milkwood's album. After Milkwood, Ocasek formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, which included Orr and Hawkes. Ocasek and Orr also performed as an acoustic duo during this period. Some of the songs they played became the early Cars songs. Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with guitarist Elliot Easton in the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing soon came to the attention of WBCN disc jockey Maxanne Sartori, who began playing songs from their demo tape on her show. After Cap'n Swing was rejected by several record labels, Ocasek got rid of the bass player and drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Orr took over on bass and David Robinson, best known for his career with the Modern Lovers, became the drummer. Hawkes returned to play keyboards and the band became "the Cars" in late 1976.[16]

The CarsEdit

Ocasek was a founding member of the Cars, recording numerous hit songs from 1978 to 1988. He played rhythm guitar and sang lead vocals for a majority of songs (bassist Benjamin Orr was lead vocalist on the remaining tracks). Ocasek was the oldest member of the band. After splitting writing duty with Orr in the 1970s, Ocasek became the principal songwriter of the band, and wrote nearly all of the Cars' material, sharing credit on only a few songs with bandmate Greg Hawkes as co-writer. In 2010, Ocasek reunited with the surviving original members of the Cars to record their first album in 24 years. The album, entitled Move Like This, was released on May 10, 2011.[17] Not long after the album's release and its supporting tour, however, the Cars resumed their hiatus, and reunited once again in April 2018 for a performance at the ceremony of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[3][18]


During his time with the Cars, Ocasek developed a reputation as a producer, and took this role for many up-and-coming bands of differing genres including Bad Brains' Rock for Light and Guided by Voices' Do the Collapse. His other production credits include Weezer's Blue Album and Green Album (both multi-platinum), Suicide,[17] Romeo Void, Hole,[17] Bebe Buell,[19] No Doubt,[17] Nada Surf, American folk-punk band Black 47, Bad Religion, Johnny Bravo, D Generation, the Wannadies, Possum Dixon, Martin Rev, Jonathan Richman, and the 2006 album by the Pink Spiders titled Teenage Graffiti. He also produced a portion of the third Motion City Soundtrack album, Even If It Kills Me. In 2014, Ocasek produced Everything Will Be Alright in the End, the ninth studio album by Weezer and his third collaboration with the band, and For All My Sisters, the sixth album by the Cribs.[20]

Solo careerEdit

Ocasek released his first solo album in 1982. Beatitude is a somewhat more experimental variation of the Cars' new wave rock sound. On some tracks Ocasek played all of the instruments.[21] Greg Hawkes also played on the album, as did Fuzzbee Morse from Richard and the Rabbits.[22] A more synthesizer-heavy follow-up, This Side of Paradise, was released in 1986; this featured Hawkes, Elliot Easton and Ben Orr.[21] A No. 15 hit single, "Emotion in Motion", accompanied the album.[23]

The Cars disbanded in 1988, and Ocasek disappeared from the public eye for a couple of years. He resurfaced in 1990 with his own album, Fireball Zone. One track, "Rockaway", enjoyed a brief stay on the charts, but his solo albums realized disappointing sales, especially compared to his success with the Cars. He subsequently released other solo works during the decade, including 1993's Quick Change World, 1996's Getchertiktz (a collaboration with Suicide's Alan Vega and Canadian poet Gillian McCain comprising only Beat poetry set to music, sound effects, etc.), and 1997's Billy Corgan-produced Troublizing (which Ocasek supported with a very brief tour, his first since leaving the Cars). In 2005 Ocasek released another album, Nexterday, to little fanfare, but it received positive reviews.[24]

In other mediaEdit

Ocasek wrote a book of poetry in 1993 titled Negative Theatre. It was at one time expected to be incorporated into an album and multimedia incarnation of the same name, but those plans were dropped abruptly. For many years Ocasek had a hobby of making drawings, photo collages, and mixed-media art works which, in 2009, were shown at a gallery in Columbus, Ohio, as an exhibition called "Teahead Scraps".[25]

Ocasek had a cameo role as a beatnik painter in the John Waters film Hairspray (1988),[26] and had a small part in the movie Made in Heaven (1987)[27] in which he played a mechanic.

Ocasek stated in a 2005 interview in Rockline that he hated touring and was unlikely to do so again. He also stated he would not be reuniting with the Cars again, but gave the okay to his former bandmates to do so, with Todd Rundgren replacing him on vocals, using the name the New Cars.[28][29]

On April 17, 2006, Ocasek appeared on The Colbert Report and volunteered to put Todd Rundgren "on notice". He appeared again on the July 26, 2006, episode to cheers from the audience as he volunteered to lead a commando mission to "rescue" Stephen Jr., the baby eagle at the San Francisco Zoo named after Stephen Colbert. He also appeared again on April 18, 2007, in order to support his wife during her appearance on the show, after remarks that she found Colbert "extremely attractive". He has been mentioned many times in other episodes as well. The Cars, with Ocasek, appeared on The Colbert Report on August 9, 2011, to promote their new album, Move Like This.[30]

In 2012, Ocasek released Lyrics and Prose, a complete collection of lyrics from his solo and Cars' albums. The book also contains prose and poetry never set to music, as well as previously unpublished photographs and artwork.[31]

Personal lifeEdit

Ocasek and Cars co-founder Benjamin Orr were close friends who became estranged when the band broke up. The two reconciled prior to Orr's death in 2000. Their friendship was commemorated in the song "Silver", which Ocasek wrote in memory of Orr.[6][32][33]

Ocasek was married three times. His first wife Constance divorced him in Ohio in 1971. In the same year he married Suzanne Otcasek, who uses the original spelling of Ocasek's name. They were married for 17 years.[34] During filming of the music video for the Cars' song "Drive" in 1984, Ocasek met 19-year-old Czech-born[35] supermodel[36] Paulina Porizkova, while he was still married to Suzanne. Ocasek and Suzanne divorced in 1988. He and Porizkova were married on August 23, 1989[37] on Saint-Barthélemy island. In May 2018, Porizkova announced she and Ocasek had separated a year earlier.[38]

Ocasek had six sons, two from each of his three marriages. His eldest son, Christopher (b. 1964), is a singer who formed the rock group Glamour Camp which released one album in 1989, and appeared as a solo artist in the film Pretty Woman (1990).[39] His other children include Adam (b. 1970), Eron (b. 1973),[39] Derek (b. 1981),[34][39][40] Jonathan Raven (b. 1993),[41] and Oliver (b. 1998).[42]


Ocasek was found dead on September 15, 2019, by his estranged wife, Paulina Porizkova, at his New York City townhouse, which they still shared[43] following their separation in 2017.[38] He had been recovering from surgery.[43][44][45] The Chief Medical Examiner office reported that Ocasek died from natural causes. He suffered from both hypertensive heart and coronary artery disease.[46]

Porizkova and Ocasek were still in the process of their divorce, but he had disinherited her in a new will, alleging that before his recent surgery she had abandoned him. He also disinherited two of his six sons (Chris and Adam), which required a surrogate court judge to rule on the veracity of the abandonment claims before the remaining estate could be divided.[47]

In 2021, the dispute between Ocasek's estate and Porizkova was settled; Porizkova commenting "They gave me what is mine under New York state law, and we're done."[48]


Solo albumsEdit

Spoken word albumsEdit

  • Getchertiktz with Alan Vega and Gillian McCain (1996)

With the CarsEdit

Solo singlesEdit

Title Release Peak chart positions Album
US Rock
US Dance
"Something to Grab For" 1983 47 5 Beatitude
"Jimmy Jimmy" 25 60
"Connect Up to Me" 37
"Emotion in Motion" 1986 15 1 8 8 18 35 This Side of Paradise
"True to You" 75 9 100
"Rockaway" 1991 11 139 46 Fireball Zone
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Guest appearancesEdit


Release Album
"Steal the Night" 1983 The King of Comedy
"I Still Want You" 1987 Made in Heaven
"Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" 1991 Simply Mad About the Mouse
"Crash" 1994 Speed

Production creditsEdit


  1. ^ Following Ocasek's death, there was some confusion about his date of birth. He had claimed to be five years younger than he actually was.


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External linksEdit