The Day That Harry Chapin Died
On July 16, 1981, Harry Chapin died, The famed singer-songwriter was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. He was only 38 years old.
According to police reports at the time, the car Chapin was driving, a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer which struck Chapin's at 55 miles an hour as the car 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.
Chapin was long known for his charity work, such as the World Hunger Year, which he founded in 1975, and 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 been renamed in his memory). 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 clear to keep his 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 his 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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