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Donna Summer, iconic disco singer, dies at 63

Five-time Grammy Award winning singer Donna Summer is shown in a photo from her Facebook page. (www.facebook.com/donnasummer)

May 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Legendary disco-era singer Donna Summer died at her home in Naples, Fla., Thursday at the age of 63.

A family member, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed her death to Eyewitness News. She was battling lung cancer, according to ABC News.

Summer rose to fame in 1975 when a cleaner, shorter version of "Love to Love You Baby" hit the airwaves. The original track was 17 minutes long and was considered too racy by some radio stations. Her hits to follow like "Last Dance" and "I Feel Love" made her an icon and would launch her into the music stratosphere for nearly 40 years, earning her the title of disco queen.

A number of her albums reached gold or platinum status, including the multiplatinum "Bad Girls" and "On the Radio." Her songs "Hot Stuff" and "MacArthur Park" shot to the top of the Billboard charts. In all, she had 19 No. 1 dance hits between 1975 and 2008, coming second only to Madonna.

Her sound was a mix of genres and it helped her win five Grammy Awards in the dance, rock, R & B and inspirational categories. She had one of her biggest hits in the 1980s with the song "She Works Hard for the Money," which became an anthem for women's rights.

But just five years into her skyrocketing career, Summer had a nervous breakdown, became a born-again Christian and denounced disco.

"Well I think if you deny yourself, your real self and what you've been raised with, it's very difficult," she said in an interview.

But her fans never lost their love for Summer and her extraordinary voice. In 1993, Summer told Eyewitness News she managed to make peace with the image people see in her.

"I don't think of myself as an icon, but if somebody wants to it's not for me to say they can't," she said. "You know, I'm really happy if I leave a legacy that goes beyond myself in the future."

Summer was born Ladonna Adrian Gaines on Dec. 31, 1948 near Boston. She was one of seven children, raised by devout Christian parents.

The singer-songwriter released her last album, "Crayons," in 2008 at the age of 60. Summer was interviewed at the time by "Nightline," and she talked about the moment she discovered her voice while singing a solo in church.

"I was only 8. I opened my mouth and this voice just shot out of me. It shocked me and it shocked everybody in the room. I started crying and everyone in the room started crying, and I heard the voice of God saying to me, 'You're going to be famous, and this is power and you're never to misuse this power,'" she said.

Her family released a statement saying they "are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy."

The statement went on to say, "Words truly can't express how much we appreciate your prayers and love for our family at this sensitive time."

Fans visited Summer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to pay tribute to the iconic singer. Summer earned her spot on the famed sidewalk landmark in 1992. She was the first celebrity to sing at her star ceremony.

Summer had been living in southwest Florida. She is survived by her husband, Bruce Sudano, three children and four grandchildren.

See comments from celebrities about Donna Summer.

ABC News contributed to this report.

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