Singer-songwriter Harry Chapin was killed on July 16, 1981, in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. He was only 38 years old.

The car Chapin was driving, a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer, according to police reports at the time. The truck was traveling at 55 miles an hour as Chapin shifted lanes. The collision ruptured the gas tank of the VW, causing it to burst into flames.

The Harry Chapin Archives says that "the driver of the truck, 57-year-old Robert Eggleton of South Plainfield, N.J., and another passerby were able to get Harry out of the burning car through the window and by cutting the seatbelts, before the car was completely engulfed."

He was taken by police helicopter to Nassau County Medical Center where doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at 1:05PM. The cause of death was given to the media as "cardiac arrest," and it is believed that the collision caused an artery to be torn from his heart, although it's possible he had suffered a heart attack while driving.

Long known for his charity work, such as the World Hunger Year which he founded in 1975, Chapin was on his way to Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, N.Y. to play a free concert the night of his death. The park's theater has since been renamed in Chapin's memory.

Listen to Harry Chapin Perform 'Cats in the Cradle'

He joked about his politically and socially active stance in a 1980 interview: "I've found a lot of music critics wishing I was spending more time in politics and a lot of politicians wishing I was spending more time in music."

However, Chapin was always committed to keeping politics separate from his music. "I learned back in the '60s that it was not very good to lecture people," he continued. "First of all, if anything, I have more foibles than most people. Most of my songs are about my own mistakes, my own idiocies, my own stupidities."

His widow Sandy, who co-wrote Chapin's chart-topping 1974 hit "Cats in the Cradle," continued to run the Harry Chapin Foundation to carry on Harry's philanthropic work. His daughter Jen also followed in both his musical and philanthropic footsteps.

At the time of his death, Chapin was working on several songs that were released posthumously in 1988 as The Last Protest Singer.

 

 

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