(02-20) 04:00 PST New Orleans --
R&B singer and guitarist Snooks Eaglin, a local legend who counted platinum-selling rockers among his fans, died Wednesday. He was 72.
The blind musician died of a heart attack at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans after falling ill and being hospitalized last week, said John Blancher, a close family friend. Mr. Eaglin was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, said Blancher.
Mr. Eaglin, known for picking strings with his thumbnail, played and recorded with a host of New Orleans giants, including Professor Longhair, the Wild Magnolias and pianist Allen Toussaint.
Musicians including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and Bonnie Raitt would seek Mr. Eaglin out to watch him perform, Blancher said.
But New Orleans musicians knew him best.
Toussaint was 13 when he formed a band with Mr. Eaglin called the Flamingos.
"He played with a certain finger style that was highly unusual," said Toussaint, now 71. "He was unlimited on the guitar. Folks would assume, 'I can do this or I can do that,' but Snooks wouldn't. There was nothing he couldn't do. It was extraordinary."
Mr. Eaglin was slated to perform this year at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where he was a popular yearly draw. Quint Davis, the event's producer, said the musician's death leaves behind a hole that not only cannot be filled at the festival but also in the city's music community.
"His death is like losing a Dizzy Gillespie, a Professor Longhair, a Johnny Adams or a Gatemouth Brown," Davis said. "He's one of those unique giants of New Orleans music."
Blind from the time he was a young child, Mr. Eaglin was a self-taught musician who learned to play the guitar by listening to the radio. Playing the guitar with his thumbnail allowed him to play very fast, Davis said.
One of Mr. Eaglin's most well-known songs was "Funky Malaguena," a Latin song he played with an unconventional funk and blues spin, Davis said.
Because he could play with almost anyone, Mr. Eaglin is on 50 years' worth of New Orleans recordings, from early folk to R&B and jazz, Davis said. "He played a six-string, a 12-string. He could play anything with strings on it."
"A lot of cats tried to copy him, the way he attacked the strings, but they couldn't," said jazz bassist Peter "Chuck" Badie, who played with Mr. Eaglin in the 1960s at clubs on Rampart Street, which for decades was the epicenter of the city's bustling black entertainment district.
Mr. Eaglin's survivors include his wife of more than 30 years, Dorothea "Dee" Eaglin, and a daughter.