The US singer and actor Meat Loaf has died aged 74, his agent has confirmed. Born Marvin Lee Aday and later legally known as Michael, the musician died on Thursday with his wife, Deborah Gillespie, by his side. No cause of death was shared but unconfirmed reports suggested he had died of Covid-19.

“We know how much he meant to so many of you and we truly appreciate all of the love and support as we move through this time of grief in losing such an inspiring artist and beautiful man,” his family said in a statement. “From his heart to your souls … don’t ever stop rocking!”

Written and composed by Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut album Bat Out of Hell remains one of the biggest-selling albums in history. Steinman and Meat Loaf’s 1993 album Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell produced the global hit single I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). It was his only UK No 1 single, spending seven weeks at the top. He completed the Bat Out of Hell trilogy with The Monster Is Loose in 2006. The three albums have sold more than 65m copies worldwide.

Meat Loaf also had a breakout role in the 1975 film version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show playing Eddie, an ill-fated delivery boy who sings the song Hot Patootie. He appeared in more than 50 films and TV shows, among them Fight Club, Wayne’s World and Spiceworld the Movie. In 2021, he signed a deal to develop a relationship competition series titled I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).

Meat Loaf explains what he won't do for love in 1998 footage – video
Meat Loaf explains what he won’t do for love in 1998 footage – video

The news of the rock star’s death prompted numerous fond tributes. Alice Cooper called him “one of the greatest voices in rock’n’roll” and one of his closest friends in showbusiness, and recalled their work together on the 1980 comedy Roadie.

“He plays the ultimate roadie on this quest to be the best in the world,” said Cooper. “But that’s what he did in life too – he always wanted to be the best at what he was doing and I think he succeeded. There was nobody, and I mean nobody, like Meat Loaf.”

Stephen Fry recalled performing a sketch with him on the UK sketch comedy show Saturday Live in the 1980s. “I hope paradise is as you remember it from the dashboard light, Meat Loaf,” he tweeted. Of their appearance together, he wrote: “He had the quality of being simultaneously frightening and cuddly, which is rare and rather wonderful.”

Adam Lambert recalled his kindness: “A gentle hearted powerhouse rockstar forever and ever.”

“The vaults of heaven will be ringing with rock,” wrote Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Give my best to Jim.”

Music industry executive Pete Waterman called him a “larger-than-life character with a unique voice”, a take echoed by Bonnie Tyler who said he had the “stage presence to match … One of those rare people who truly was a one-off talent and personality.”

Aday was born in Dallas, Texas, on 27 September 1947. He was an only child, his mother a school teacher and gospel singer and his father a former police officer who developed alcoholism after being medically discharged from the US army during the second world war.

Aday acted in high school productions, studied at Lubbock Christian College and later North Texas State University. After his mother’s death, he moved to Los Angeles – where he worked as a car park attendant and believed that he once picked up a hitchhiking Charles Manson – and formed his first group, Meat Loaf Soul, taking the name from a nickname given to him by a football coach.

In Los Angeles, Meat Loaf turned down three early offers of recording contracts and the group plied their trade live, supporting acts such as Van Morrison’s band Them, Taj Mahal, Janis Joplin, the Who, the Fugs, the Stooges and the Grateful Dead. As band members came and went, the group changed its name with every new lineup – among them Floating Circus and Popcorn Blizzard.

Popcorn Blizzard moved to Michigan, released an album in 1967 and sold 5,000 copies. Meat Loaf, however, told NME in 1978 that he was “going crazy out there in the woods” and so he moved back to Los Angeles and joined the cast of Hair.

He was playing a long game, he explained, exploring other avenues of entertainment that he hoped would ultimately allow him to make music on his terms. “I went into the theatre ’cause I hate bars; I didn’t want to be stuck in a bar band and go sing Top 40 material. To me that’s as bad as selling out. Instead, why not do something that lets your mind be creative?”

His role in Hair led to an invitation to record for Motown in collaboration with Shaun “Stoney” Murphy. An album, Stoney & Meatloaf (misspelled) was released in September 1971. After some singles chart success Meat Loaf left the group when Motown replaced his and Murphy’s vocals on the song Who Is the Leader of the People? with those of Edwin Starr.

He found success again on stage, starring in an off-Broadway production of Rainbow and a Broadway production of Hair. Auditioning for a production of More Than You Deserve, he met his future collaborator Jim Steinman.

In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975.
In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Michael White Prods / Kobal / REX / Shutterstock

In 1973, Meat Loaf was cast in the original Los Angeles production of The Rocky Horror Show, playing Eddie and Dr Everett Scott. He took on the role of Eddie in the later film.

His rising fortunes dovetailed with the proper start of his collaboration with Steinman on Bat Out of Hell in 1972, which prompted him to sideline the theatre world. The album had a long gestation, rejected by many labels who didn’t understand its genre-defying style. Todd Rundgren proved the album’s saving grace, producing the record and playing guitar. Finally, Epic imprint Cleveland International Records took a chance and history was made. “I have the patience of a cat,” Meat Loaf told NME. “I’ll sit tight and wait until everything is right.”

His debut solo single, You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth, was released in 1977 and reached the US and UK Top 40.

Bat Out of Hell came out at the height of punk, rendering him, a critic for Mojo later suggested, “the uncoolest man in the universe”. Meat Loaf responded: “Put it this way. I got used to it quite easily when the album started selling in its millions.”

Nevertheless, he didn’t enjoy success. “The music was epic, the success was epic, everything that came with it was epic,” he told Mojo. “Maybe that’s every teenager’s fantasy. But it wasn’t mine. I hated it because it was not based in reality. To me, the whole celebrity thing was and is a lot of bullshit.”

Despite his cool attitude to fame, Meat Loaf had a nervous breakdown following Bat Out of Hell. A mooted follow-up album, Bad for Good, was blighted by Meat Loaf losing his voice thanks to a combination of touring, drugs and exhaustion. Instead, Steinman released Bad for Good as a album and wrote 1981’s Dead Ringer for Meat Loaf, who sang the title track as a duet with Cher.

However, Steinman and Meat Loaf fell out and sued one another – the first of several estrangements – leaving the latter to resort to songwriters-for-hire for his next album, Midnight at the Lost and Found. He was unable to convince his record label to pay for two Steinman songs that Meat Loaf said were written for him – Total Eclipse of the Heart, later a No 1 hit for Bonnie Tyler, and Making Love Out of Nothing at All, a No 2 hit for Air Supply.

Although a big live draw, Meat Loaf’s records foundered commercially in the 1980s. That decade, he made forays into comedy, performing in the UK with Hugh Laurie, but he also struggled personally. He told Mojo, “I went off the rails because I was fighting the record company and I was fighting the mob because I was being ripped off. It was then I discovered what a tough motherfucker I was.”

But Meat Loaf’s crowning moment was yet to come. Reunited with Steinman, and defying widespread scepticism about his comeback, he released Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, a global smash that won him Grammy and Brit awards.

On stage in 2005.
On stage in 2005. Photograph: Paul Bergen/Redferns

Critics often asked him about the caveat of I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). Meat Loaf remained cryptic about the answer, responding that it was all in the song if anyone cared to listen properly.

His subsequent 90s albums went platinum in the UK and his profile remained high into the new millennium, but on 17 November 2003, during a performance at Wembley Arena, Meat Loaf collapsed of what was later diagnosed as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. After a surgical procedure, he continued to tour and recorded Bat Out of Hell III with Steinman, released in 2006. A single, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, charted in the UK at No 6, his highest chart position in almost 11 years.

He released his 12th and now final album, Braver Than We Are, in 2016. That year, he collapsed on stage in Canada – leading the New York Post to wrongly report his death – and subsequently committed to better protecting his health.

In 2017, the Bat Out of Hell musical opened in the UK. It won the Evening Standard theatre awards prize for best musical.

On 19 April 2021, Jim Steinman died of kidney failure. Despite the death of his long term collaborator, Meat Loaf told fans in November that he was due to return to the studio in January 2022 to record songs for a new album.

Meat Loaf is survived by his wife, Deborah Gillespie, his daughter Amanda Aday and stepdaughter Pearl Aday from his first marriage to Leslie G Edmonds.

Despite the stage name, he was for a time a vegetarian. In 2001, he legally changed his name from Marvin to Michael, having always associated the name Marvin with a Levi’s ad from his youth with the strapline: “Poor fat Marvin can’t wear Levi’s.” He also admitted to social anxiety that prevented him from socialising.

Speaking to Mojo, he characterised the public perception of his act: “That I’m overblown, pompous, melodramatic, self-indulgent. I’ve heard it a million times. And the first person to describe me like that was me. It’s supposed to be overblown. The entire history of rock’n’roll is a comedy … Rock’n’roll was never meant to answer the questions of the universe. It’s a laugh. I’m a laugh. So laugh at me if you like. I have no problem with that.”

By Indana