Michael Stanley, Cleveland rocker and radio legend, dies at 72


CLEVELAND (NewsNation Now) — Michael Stanley, a Cleveland-based rocker who with his namesake band reached the Top 40 in the 1980s with the hits “He Can’t Love You” and “My Town” before going on to a long career as a radio disc jockey, has died. He was 72.

Stanley died Thursday after a seven-month battle with lung cancer, his family said in a statement.

The Cleveland legend released his first album while still in college and formed the Michael Stanley Band in 1974. After a brief period of national popularity in the early ’80s, sales fell off and the band broke up in 1987. Stanley, also a songwriter, continued to record and tour, and remained beloved in his hometown as a radio and television personality, performer and recording artist.

“He was so emblematic of that raging heart that doesn’t care that it’s gonna lose — it’s still gonna leave everything on the field. And when he wrote those songs, those kids in a city where the river caught on fire and the lake died, they felt like their lives mattered,” music critic and author Holly Gleason told Cleveland.com. “If you were a kid coming of age in Cleveland in the ‘70s or the ’80s, he was our hand on the brass ring.”

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Despite his success, he dealt with several challenges that could have ended his career: a near-fatal heart attack in the early 90s, losing his mother to pancreatic cancer and losing his third wife Denise to lung cancer. Michael himself battled prostate cancer, but his music allowed him to gain perspective and provide an outlet. In a 2014 interview, Michael talked about the struggles. 

“You have to choose how you’re going to deal with that. Are you going to curl up and sit like a sick dog until it’s over? Or live your life? And hopefully, that’s the choice I made.” 

In 2019, Michael received the Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement award and Cleveland City Council renamed Huron Road “Michael Stanley Way.”

In the fall of 2020, Michael fought lung cancer. Ultimately, the disease took his life. During his 50 years of music and 70-plus years on earth, Michael Stanley was synonymous with Cleveland. His memory lives on with his children, grandchildren and 40 albums worth of music.   

The rock radio station WNCX in Cleveland, where he worked for 30 years, posted a message from Stanley himself, saying:

“Hey gang… Well, if you’re reading this then I am off to catch up with that big club tour in the sky. But before the bus pulls out I wanted to thank all of you for being part of my musical journey, both on the stage, on record, and behind the microphone here at WNCX.”

Accompanied by his signature, Stanley’s send-off continued: “Somebody once said that if you love your job then it’s not really work. And if that’s true (and I definitely think it is) then I have been happily out of work for over fifty years!”

Michael’s family thanks the fans for always being there and for their love and support.

His family asks that contributions in Michael’s name be made to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the Cleveland Animal Protective League. A private funeral for Stanley was planned.

Stanley’s family released a statement to radio station 98.5 Saturday morning:

Cleveland singer and songwriter Michael Stanley Gee passed away peacefully at home on March 5th with his family by his side. He was 72 years old. Michael battled lung cancer for seven months with the same strength and dignity he carried throughout his life. He will always be remembered as a loving father, brother, husband, a loyal friend, and the leader of one of Cleveland’s most successful rock bands.

Michael will be laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery. The service will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to the Cleveland Food Bank (www.greaterclevelandfoodbank.org) and/or the Cleveland Animal Protective League (www.clevelandapl.org). Michael’s family would like to thank Hospice of the Western Reserve for their dedicated care, his friends and extended family for “being there”, and his fans for their love and support during the past forty years. As he always said, “It’s your world, pay attention.”


The Associated Press and NewsNation WJW affiliate contributed to this report.

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