'Stand By Me' singer Ben E. King dies at 76

R&B singer Ben E. King, best known for the hit song 'Stand By Me'. (Photo by Rick Eglinton/The Toronto Star/Getty)
R&B singer Ben E. King, best known for the hit song 'Stand By Me'.

R&B legend Ben E. King, best known for his hit song "Stand By Me," died Thursday, his publicist told NBC News. He was 76.

King, whose real name was Benjamin Earl Nelson, had a string of hits that cracked the Billboard Top 40 in the 1960s and 1970s. But none were as popular as "Stand By Me," which was voted one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Just last month, the 1961 track was among 25 recordings selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in its national registry.

King died Thursday, his publicist, Phil Brown, said, without providing any details about about the cause of death.

King was born in Henderson, North Carolina, on Sept. 28, 1938, and moved to Harlem when he was nine years old. He joined a doo-wop group in 1958 that eventually came to be known as The Drifters. They scored a number of successful R&B singles.

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In 1960, after a contract dispute. he left the group and assumed his stage name out on his own.

"Stand By Me," King's second single during his solo career, was re-issued in 1986 after it was used as the theme song to the movie of the same name.

On his own and with the Drifters, King had five number-one hits: "There Goes My Baby," "Save The Last Dance For Me," "Stand By Me," "Supernatural Thing," and the 1986 re-issue of "Stand By Me," according to his website. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Drifter.

R&B singer and songwriter Gary U.S. Bonds posted a tribute to King on his Facebook page, thanking King for "the wonderful legacy" he leaves behind.

"With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years - Mr. Ben E. King," he wrote. "I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say."

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.