Norman Greenbaum, best known for his much-played 1969 hit “Spirit in the Sky,” was in critical condition after a crash that killed a motorcycle driver Saturday afternoon, the California Highway Patrol said.
Greenbaum, 72, was in the front passenger seat in a 2002 Subaru Outback when the driver, Bonita Kay Perea, made a left turn onto a road near Santa Rosa, California. The right side of the car was hit by a motorcycle that was “evidently unable to slow or stop in time to avoid a collision with the Subaru,” the highway patrol said in its report.
The driver of the motorcycle, Ihab Usama Halaweh, was killed. His passenger, Nhmia Mekonnen Kahsay, was being treated for critical injuries, the CHP said.
Greenbaum was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. His injuries were also considered critical at the time of the highway patrol report.
On his Twitter page, Greenbaum describes himself as a “one-hit wonder,” but what a hit: “Spirit in the Sky,” with its distinctive fuzz-toned guitar, spacey effects and gospel-tinged harmonies, has been featured in more than 40 movies and TV shows, including “Apollo 13” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” according to the Internet Movie Database. It was used to score one of the trailers for last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Because of ‘Spirit in the Sky,’ I don’t have to work. So in that sense, it’s a comfortable living,” Greenbaum told The New York Times in 2006. He said he wrote the words in 15 minutes.
The song, released in late 1969, hit No. 3 in the spring of 1970 and spent 15 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart. A 1980s cover version by Doctor and the Medics hit No. 1 in the UK, as did a 2003 version by the Kumars with Gareth Gates.
Prior to going solo, Greenbaum was a member of Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, which had a minor hit with its 1966 song “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago.”