Music filled the church during a private funeral Tuesday for Clarence Clemons, longtime saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, who died of stroke complications over the weekend.
The roughly two-hour service for the 69-year-old Clemons, known as the Big Man and Springsteen’s main foil onstage for four decades, was at the Royal Poinciana Chapel. Faint strains of music could be heard outside the small gray church.
Springsteen, among those delivering a eulogy, spoke eloquently of his friendship with Clemons, according to those leaving the church. Jackson Browne and members of the E Street Band were on hand. Miami Heat general manager Pat Riley was seen leaving the church, which is beside the historic estate of tycoon Henry Flagler and nearby the tony Breakers hotel.
The 6-foot-5 Clemons had suffered from numerous medical problems over the years. He needed spinal surgery to relieve back pain and had two knee replacements. In recent years, he often needed to rest on stools onstage. He died Saturday at his home in Singer Island, Fla.
Besides the E Street Band, Clemons performed with many other artists, including Browne, over the years. Very recently, he was introduced to a whole new generation of fans when he performed his signature tenor sax on Lady Gaga’s video, “The Edge of Glory.”
In a statement posted on his Internet site, Springsteen said, “Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them want to love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every time he stepped on stage.”
Gail Reich Ampolsky, came from Marlboro, N.J., for the funeral. She said she was a lifelong fan of Clemons whom the musician had befriended. Springsteen and his bandmates, including Clemons, met and got their start in New Jersey.
“He touched everybody’s life in so many ways,” she said after the service. “He was just a big teddy bear. He was just wonderful. He was a huge part of the band and he was a huge part of life.”
Gyorgy Lakatos, a musician who said Clemons performed on his forthcoming album, said Springsteen’s eulogy was among the most moving parts of the service.
“Bruce was talking so beautiful,” he said.
Many of the mourners slipped away outside the view of a small group of media, riding off in a string of Bentleys, Mercedes and BMWs. A small group milled around in the distance on the church property hours after the service finished, as a large photo of a beaming Clemons was loaded into the back of a black SUV.
“It was a great show man,” one man said after leaving the service.