B.B. King, Blues Legend, Dead at Age 89

King was considered one of the greatest guitarists of all-time.

ByABC News
May 15, 2015, 3:11 AM

— -- Blues legend B.B. King has died at the age of 89, Clark County, Nevada Coroner John Fudenberg told ABC News.

King, who is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all-time, died at 9:40 p.m. Thursday, Fudenberg said. He had been living in hospice care in Las Vegas, which he had told his fans via his website on May 1.

The musician, who has more than 40 studio albums to his credit, was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He is also a 15-time Grammy winner and has sold millions of albums worldwide. He had been touring until late last year.

Born Riley B. King in 1925 in Mississippi, the icon was inspired to play guitar as a boy after seeing his pastor play in church.

"I wanted to be like him. ... I wanted to be just like him. People used to tell me when I was younger that I played a lot like him," King told PBS in 2013.

King entered the music industry as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, after serving in World War II. He earned the name B.B. after he was called "the Beale Street Blues Boy" and that nickname was shortened, according to Biography.com.

King's recording career started in 1949 and he had his first hit three years later with "3 O'Clock Blues," which was followed by others, including "You Know I Love You" and "Woke Up This Morning."

Known later in his seven-decade career as the "King of the Blues," King was self-taught and named every guitar he used Lucille after an incident at a dance in Arkansas, where a fire broke out after two men were fighting over a woman with that name. His guitar almost perished in the flames of a fire, but he was able to rescue his first Lucille. In 1967, King wrote and recorded "Lucille," which details how his iconic guitar got its famed name.

In 1969, King released "The Thrill is Gone," one of his biggest hits for the album "Completely Well." The single hit number 3 on the 1970 Billboard Best Selling Soul Singes chart and number 15 on the Hot 100. He later won a Grammy for the song.

King collaborated with numerous musicians, including Eric Clapton, U2, John Lee Hooker, Daryl Hall and Carole King. King performed a reported 15,000 times during his career.

"I look at an audience like meeting my in-laws for the first time," he told PBS in 1986. "You want to be yourself, but you still want to be someone they like. When I go out on stage each night, I try my best to outguess my audience and I like to feel in most cases like I'm a big guy with long, rubber arms that I can reach around my audience and swing and sway with them."

But King was more than music. In fact, the first B.B. King's Blues Club opened 1991 on Beale Street in Memphis, the same street that got him his iconic name. Other clubs opened in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, among other locations.

King had been outspoken about his Type II diabetes and was a spokesperson for awareness of the disease.

King was married twice in his life, to Martha Lee Denton and Sue Carol Hall, both of which ended by the mid-1960s. The musician is survived by his 11 living children.