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Larry Rivers, saxophonist and controversial visual artistCopyright © 2002
Larry Rivers was a colourful and often controversial figure in the world of the visual arts. He was a painter, sculptor, writer, poet, teacher and occasional actor and filmmaker.
He was born Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg; his parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Before he turned to visual arts, Rivers was a saxophonist in a band playing the so-called "borscht belt", the resort circuit in the Catskill Mountains favoured by New York's Jewish community.
He was a bandsman in the Army Air Corps before receiving an honourable discharge on medical grounds, and became part of the emergigng bebop scene in New York, where he studied at Juilliard School of Music for a time. He became friendly with Miles Davis at Juilliard, and met Charlie Parker through him, but turned to painting instead. As he recalled in his autobiography, he decided that art was an activity on a "higher level" than jazz after discovering Cubism.
He returned to music in later years, however. He played the saxophone with several bands, and remained active until his death. His daughter Gwynne occasionally sang with him. His East 13th Street Band made recordings in the 1980s and early 1990s. His last group was called the Climax Band.
The died from cancer of the liver. He is survived by his wife, Clarice (they separated but never divorced); their daughters, Gwynne Rivers and Emma Rivers, both of New York City; his sons, Joseph Rivers, of Pleasant Valley, N.Y.; Steven Rivers, of Nyack, N.Y.; and Sam Deshuk Rivers, his son with Daria Deshuk, a painter he lived with for 10 years; and eight grandchildren. His sisters, Geri Block and Joan Gordon, also survive him, as does Jeni Olin, a poet, his partner for the last five years of his life.