Many paid off their debts in tribute. U2 covered Reed's "Satellite of Love," the Cowboy Junkies did "Sweet Jane" and R.E.M. frequently performed "Pale Blue Eyes." His song "Perfect Day" had an extensive life, too.
Reed was an avant-garde artist who wore the black leather of a rocker and played a cutting guitar. Reed and his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, were a First Couple of an artistic scene that thrived on taking risks. Sometimes the risks didn't work — his last big project, the 2011 collaboration with Metallica called "Lulu," was widely seen as a clamorous mess — but very few people succeed at everything.
He was dismissive in our interview when asked what he hoped people would say about his work when he was gone.
"I don't give a (expletive)," he said. "Who knows or cares?
"I don't expect anything at all from anything and I never have," he said. "I'm not trying to change anybody's mind about anything. I'm not trying to win anybody over. I'm happy to get up in the morning. I can tie my shoelaces. I haven't got hit by a car. I just love the music and sound and wanted to make it better, so if someone else wanted to hear it, they'd get some bang for the buck."
The people who cared about his music always knew there was a heart beating strong beneath that gruff exterior. The wild side was hard to miss, but the tenderness of a "Pale Blue Eyes" is hard to forget, the regretful young man singing that he "thought of you as everything I've had but couldn't keep."
Reed's 1989 album, "New York," was a rocking, superbly written chronicle of a city in the midst of a crack epidemic, before it was later cleaned up.