So enamored of clever rhymes that he once gave a shout out to William Shakespeare in a pop song, Rich Cronin could toss off lyrics and raps with almost breathtaking ease.
Take the time Mr. Cronin's mother picked him up at the airport during the years he dated actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.
"He was in the car with me, and he said, 'Love wants me to write her a song,' " said his mother, Doris, of Kingston. "I said, 'If anybody can do it, you can.' And he wrote 'Girl on TV' while we were riding home. That's how fast he was."
Hewitt was featured in the video that Mr. Cronin's band, LFO, recorded for "Girl on TV," but the song was the lesser known of the pop trio's two big hits. "Summer Girls," cowritten by Mr. Cronin, became a radio staple in summer 1999 with its consumer culture references to "girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch" and non sequitur couplets that lingered in listeners' minds long after the song ended. (For video links, go to the Globe's Sound Effects blog.)
Mr. Cronin, who was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago, died Wednesday in Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston of complications from treatment for the illness. He was 36 and in recent years had returned to live in Kingston, where he grew up.
"He was an illuminating light, everybody loved him," said his father, Richard. "He could write a verse in a second. Give him an idea or a tune and he could put a verse to it."
"And he would help other people who wanted to write songs," his mother said. "He would give them ideas."
The ideas that became "Summer Girls" earned Mr. Cronin and LFO a permanent place in the collective cultural memory of teenagers worldwide. With his smooth voice and 6-foot-3-inch frame, Mr. Cronin was a commanding, handsome presence in the video for the hip-hop song.
Though warm nostalgia suffuses the song, he wrote it during a low moment in his own life. His band had toured Europe for three years in the late 1990s, and he momentarily was disenchanted with how the music business sculpts stars, dictating everything from the music they purportedly like to the way they dress and style their hair.
"I just thought back to when I was young, happy, no worries," he told the Globe in 2005. " 'Summer Girls' was all about a summer on the Cape. Inside jokes. I never thought that anyone besides my close friends would ever hear it."
The song reached number three on the US pop music charts and "LFO," the eponymous album on which it appeared, went multi-platinum, selling 2.5 million copies worldwide.
"LFO takes me back to -- as cliched as it sounds -- better, easier times," Tanner Stransky wrote today in the music section of the website for Entertainment Weekly magazine.
When "Summer Girls" played in 1999, young women "squealed with delight, gesturing to their A&F gear and Doc Marten boots," Stransky wrote. LFO dropped "pop culture bombs into all their songs," seeding "Summer Girls" with references "to Alex P. Keaton, New Kids on the Block, and Macaulay Culkin in 'Home Alone.' Could you have made a teenager in 1999 swoon more? These were the things that defined our life."
Richard Burton Cronin graduated in 1993 from Sacred Heart High School in Kingston and began to draw notice when he competed in regional rap contests. While studying at Bridgewater State College, he kept in his bedroom a poster of Vanilla Ice, a touchstone for many white aspiring hip-hop artists.
LFO, which stands for Lyte Funky Ones, was signed to a recording contract in the mid-1990s. When "Summer Girls" hit, the trio went on a lengthy tour, opening at times for Britney Spears.
Suddenly, the rhymes he penned in a moment of melancholy were on the lips of teenagers everywhere. To many fans, "Summer Girls" was simply the Abercrombie & Fitch song, or they remembered it for its throwaway put-down of Chinese food.
New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
and I think it's fly when girls stop by
for the summer, for the summer
I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch
I'd take her if I had one wish
but she's been gone since that summer
since that summer
The immense popularity of the song took Mr. Cronin by surprise.
"I would have definitely taken out the line about Chinese food if I had known that would happen," he told the Globe in 2005.
In addition to his father and mother, Richard and Doris (Eddy), Mr. Cronin leaves a brother, Michael of Kingston, and a sister, Cassandra of Plymouth.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. on Monday in St. Joseph Church in Kingston. Burial will be in Vine Hills Cemetery in Plymouth.
While some websites list Mr. Cronin as 35, he actually was 36, "but he'd like you to write that he's 35," his mother said with a soft chuckle.
He kept working during the years he was treated for acute myeloid leukemia, signing on in 2007 as a cast member of "Mission: Man Band," a reality TV show on VH1, and releasing a solo album, "Billion Dollar Sound," the following year.
Mr. Cronin also started the Rich Cronin Hope Foundation to raise funds for and awareness about the disease.
The diagnosis was swift and startling when, at the urging of his parents, he went to see a doctor in 2005, and the change from star on the stage to patient in a wheelchair was sobering.
"It is the antithesis of being a star," he told the Globe in 2005. "People used to say, 'Oh, that's the "Summer Girls" guy, or, 'That's the guy who went out with Love Hewitt.' Now there's people looking down at me with a mask on my face because I'm too sick to breathe the air."
The path to and from stardom already had led Mr. Cronin through painful junctures. In recent years, he was sharply critical of his former manager, Lou Perlman, a music mogul who promoted boy bands and pleaded guilty in 2008 to federal charges of conspiracy and money laundering.
Nevertheless, Mr. Cronin didn't lose sight of his good fortune.
"I am truly thankful for the success I had," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2006, when he was working on reviving his career. "And if it happens again, that'd be really nice. I'm just that same guy writing pop songs to make people happy. And I still only like girls in Abercrombie & Fitch."
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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