Rock legend Lou Reed dies aged 71

Lou Reed, the singer, guitarist and songwriter and a key figure in the history of rock music through his work both solo and with The Velvet Underground, has died at the age of 71.

Reed had a liver transplant earlier this year, and his literary agent said he died of a "liver-related ailment".

Born in New York in 1942, Lewis Allen 'Lou' Reed attended Syracuse University where he was taught by the poet Delmore Schwartz who would become his mentor. Influenced by doo wop, R&B and the free jazz excursions of the saxophonist Ornette Coleman, Reed went on to form The Velvet Underground in 1964 with ex-pat Welsh musician John Cale, a multi-instrumentalist student of the avant garde composer La Monte Young.

Managed by the pop artist Andy Warhol and adding guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer/percussionist Maureen 'Mo' Tucker, the band released their seminal debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico (the German singer Nico sang lead vocals on three tracks) in 1967. Tales of the sub-culture including Heroin, I'm Waiting For The Man, All Tomorrow's Parties, Femme Fatale, Sunday Morning and Venus In Furs would eventually find their way into rock's musical directory, but clashed with the presiding peace and love ethic of the time.

Despite its lack of contemporary commercial success, the album has gone on to be recognised as an important and classic work, regularly featuring prominently in greatest albums of all time polls.

An influence on many musicians and music fans; it proved an important landmark on the road to punk and indie music. Indeed, Brian Eno famously said of The Velvets' debut "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."

Three further albums followed; Cale left after 1968's White Light/White Heat, to be replaced by Doug Yule, and Reed himself launched a solo career following The Velvet Underground (1969) and Loaded (1970) - the latter featuring one of several pivotal Reed songs, Sweet Jane.

A hard drinker and drug user during the era, his legendarily uncompromising persona and stage performances won him both admirers and detractors, but his key works continue to be regarded in high esteem.

After a false start with his self-titled solo debut, 1972's Transformer finally landed Reed in the charts; Walk On The Wild Side provided the hit single and an enduring radio classic and Perfect Day and Satellite Of Love also afforded this most single-minded of artists some crossover success. Produced by Velvets fan David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson, the album shone a light on the seedier side of New York and many of the characters Reed encountered during his time as part of Warhol's Factory studio and 'Exploding Plastic Inevitable' multimedia events.

1973's darker follow-up Berlin, split the critics and audience but stands as one of Reed's most intensely creative, not to say harrowing works. He successfully revived the album on stage during the last decade.

He failed - perhaps deliberately - to maintain the commercial success of Transformer, and took a number of artistic detours such as the notoriously difficult Metal Machine Music - a double album of experimental noise and feedback that some felt was little more than a joke, but Reed would continue to stand by.

The 1980s proved difficult commercially and artistically for Reed, though ended in the triumphant critical success of New York, his back to basics, filmic album tribute to his home city.

He teamed up with John Cale once more for the Warhol requiem Songs For 'Drella, though theirs remained a difficult relationship.

His relationship with the musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson culminated in their marriage in 2008. Reed leaves a remarkable legacy as well as an often brilliant if inconsistent body of work, which included many collaborations and guest appearances.

He will be remembered especially for that vital Velvet Underground debut, for Walk On A Wild Side and for his significant contribution to elevating rock music into a genuine art form.