Percy Sledge, the R&B singer whose soulful ballad of eternal love and rejection, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” topped the charts in 1966, died on Tuesday in Baton Rouge, La. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by Artists International Management, which represented him. Mr. Sledge had liver cancer, for which he underwent surgery in 2014, Mark Lyman, his agent and manager, said.
Mr. Sledge, sometimes called the King of Slow Soul, was a sentimental crooner and one of the South’s first soul stars, having risen to fame from jobs picking cotton and working as a hospital orderly while performing at colleges and clubs on the weekends.
“I was singing every style of music: the Beatles, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Motown, Sam Cooke, the Platters,” Mr. Sledge said.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” was his first recording for Atlantic Records, after a patient at the hospital introduced him to the record producer Quin Ivy. It went on to become the label’s first gold record in 1966. (The Recording Industry Association of America began certifying records as gold, for 500,000 copies sold, in 1958.) Raw and lovelorn, the song was a response to a woman who had left him for another man, Mr. Sledge said. He called its composition a “miracle.”
An album of the same name was released that year, and three more studio records for Atlantic followed during the 1960s: “Warm and Tender Soul,” “The Percy Sledge Way” and “Take Time to Know Her.”
While Mr. Sledge never again reached the heights of his first hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman” had many lives: as an early highlight of the Muscle Shoals, Ala., music scene; as a movie soundtrack staple in the 1980s, heard in “The Big Chill” and “Platoon”; and in a 1991 cover version by Michael Bolton, which also topped the Billboard chart and earned Mr. Bolton a Grammy.