06/18/2011 at 09:30 PM EDT
Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxophonist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, died Saturday of complications from a stroke
. He was 69.
Known as The Big Man, the 6', 4" former college football player was a legendary sideman for the New Jersey-born rocker from the early 1970s, playing on such hits as "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road."
Clemons had dealt with a series of medical problems over the past decade, including having both knees replaced and spinal fusion surgery, but his health had seemed to be improving.
He performed just last month with Lady Gaga
on the season finale of American Idol.
Then last week, it was revealed he had been hospitalized with a stroke. After early improvement, he took a turn for the worse later in the week.