Bill Haley, 53, who helped make rock 'n roll a major part of the American musical idiom with his 1950s classic "Rock Around the Clock," died yesterday in his home in south Texas.
Mr. Haley, who with his group, the Comets, sent teen-aged film audiences into frenzy when they played the song over the credits of the movie "Blackboard Jungle." had lived for some time in relative seclusion in a fashionable neighborhood of Harlingen in the Rio Grande valley.
Police said he was found dead in his bed about 12:35 p.m. The precise cause of death was not known, but a justice of the peace said that Mr. Haley died of natural causes.
Bill Haley and the Comets, with their loud, pulsating sound, did not invent rock 'n roll, whose roots have been traced to country music and to black rhythm and blues. But few individuals or groups did more to introduce rock to the popular music audience, or to ignite the explosion with which it blazed its way into the world's consciousness.
"People associate the beginning of rock 'n roll with 1954," Mr. Haley said. "Actually, it had been gathering momentum and when we made 'Rock Around the Clock' it just exploded.
"That's when the mob scene started -- thousands of kids at the stage door . . . It wasn't because we were so great. The hysteria wasn't for us. It was for the music. This was a new music for kids who hadn't had any of their own.
Mr. Haley sometimes described as the first white rock singer, was born in Highland Park, Mich., a Detroit suburb, and moved as a child to Booth's Corner, a small southeastern Pennsylvania town. While in high school in Pennsylvania, he started playing country music. As a young man he had a group billed as Bill Haley and The Four Aces of Western Swing and later he and his band were called Bill Haley and The Saddlemen.
"Rock Around the Clock," which sold more than 16 million copies within 15 years of its release, was not his first rock release. In the early 1950s Mr. Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock the Joint," "Real Rock Drive" and "Crazy, Man, Crazy." Throbbing with energy and exuberance, the latter, according to music historians, was, in 1953, the first rock record to become a national pop hit.
In succeeding years, Mr. Haley and his group won hordes of howling, screaming, irrespressibly enthusiastic fans. After their star seemed to fade in this country, they went abroad, and found new and equally eager audiences. By Mr. Haley's count they made 37 hit records, including "See Ya Later, Alligator," "Shake, Rattle 'n Roll," and "Rock 'a Beatin' Boogie."
In recent years, little was heard from the entertainer who was one of the founding fathers of rock. Once, according to a wire service report, a reporter went to his house and was told he never lived there. However, according to the report, police said they had brought him there several times after finding him wandering late at night.