Mars Williams, Saxophonist of The Psychedelic Furs, Dead of Cancer at 68: 'Boundless Energy Will Continue to Inspire'

The jazz-trained musician was known for playing in '80s new wave bands like The Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses, among other projects

<p> Andrew Benge/Redferns</p> Mars Williams performing with The Psychedelic Furs in Leeds in September 2017

Andrew Benge/Redferns

Mars Williams performing with The Psychedelic Furs in Leeds in September 2017

Mars Williams, the renowned saxophone player of new wave bands The Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses, has died at age 68.

The Chicago Tribune was first to report the news on Monday and confirmed the Chicago musician died that morning from ampullary cancer after being diagnosed nearly a year ago. Williams’ family also later shared a statement, saying he was “surrounded by family and friends” at the time of his death.

The jazz artist — who played in the short-lived, punk-new-wave band The Waitresses from 1980 to 1983 and with The Psychedelic Furs for six years in the ‘80s before rejoining the group in 2005 — was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that affects the digestive system in December 2022, according to a GoFundMe his family set up to help cover treatment costs.

<p> Luis Ortiz/Clasos/LatinContent via Getty</p> Mars Williams performing with The Psychedelic Furs

Luis Ortiz/Clasos/LatinContent via Getty

Mars Williams performing with The Psychedelic Furs

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Williams’ family took to the platform to share a statement on his death. “Dear friends,” the statement began, “It's with great sadness that we send this message to let the many people who loved and supported Mars Williams know that he passed away earlier today after his year-long struggle with cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends, both in person and around the world, who held him close, and loved him dearly.”

The statement continued by speaking to Williams’ passion for music and long-running career — which he continued this year out on the road with The Psychedelic Furs and at home in Chicago where he played weekly shows with the jazz ensemble Extraordinary Popular Delusions.

“Until the end, Mars' inexhaustible humor and energy, and his love for music, pushed him forward,” his family wrote. “As it became clear in late summer that his treatment options were coming to an end, he chose to spend six weeks of the time he had left living as he had since he was a teenager — out on the road performing night after night. Those last performances with the Psychedelic Furs will live on with all of the other incredible contributions that Mars has made as a person, and as a musician, and that boundless energy will continue to inspire.”

<p>Valerio Berdini/Shutterstock </p> Mars Williams and Rico Love of The Psychedelic Furs

Valerio Berdini/Shutterstock

Mars Williams and Rico Love of The Psychedelic Furs

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The “Love My Way” band also shared a note about Williams' death with posts on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) on Monday. The group shared a thoughtful photo of a saxophone sitting under the spotlight on a stage, overlooking a dark auditorium, and wrote how “heartbroken” they were in the caption.

“We're heartbroken 💔,” wrote The Psychedelic Furs. “Goodbye to the great Mars Williams. Rest well.”

The recording artist was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1955 where he played clarinet for years and studied jazz at DePaul University before relocating to New York where he connected with The Waitresses and eventually The Psychedelic Furs. With The Waitresses, Williams played on songs like “Christmas Wrapping” and “I Know What Boys Like,” earning him his first Billboard Hot 100 hit.

After the group disbanded, he met the “Heaven” group through NYC’s downtown scene and joined them on tour. Throughout their time together in the ‘80s which lasted from 1983 to 1989, he appeared on acclaimed records like 1984’s Mirror Moves and 1987’s Midnight to Midnight. Since reunited in 2005, he also played on their most recent release, 2020’s Made of Rain.

The rocker also spent over two decades playing in the Grammy-nominated jazz-funk group Liquid Soul and had stints performing and recording with iconic acts such as Billy Idol, Jerry Garcia, The Killers and many others.

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In 2021, Williams reflected on his career in an interview with Chicago's CHIRP Radio. He said, "My career probably would’ve moved probably more towards the jazz scene with a focus in that — by getting in The Waitresses, it all of a sudden opened up all these other doors for me with the new wave scene and the punk scene and the stuff that was going on in New York at the time."

He also spoke about his reunion with The Psychedelic Furs in a 2009 conversation with the U.K.'s Penny Black Music. "I got back with the Furs in 2005. We were all older. We had been friends for so long. We put our resentments behind us. I love being back in the band," the saxophonist shared. "They didn’t have another horn after that. Richard Butler said, 'Wow. This is what’s been missing.' It’s a really good vibe. It’s a good bunch of guys. We’re having fun."

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