Ocasek was pronounced dead at his townhouse after someone called 911 about 4 p.m. EDT to report that he was unresponsive, a New York Police Department spokesman said. The cause of death will be determined by the city’s coroner.
His representatives could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
“So sad. Such a great writer, singer, player, producer,” fellow classic rocker Peter Frampton said on Twitter of Ocasek. “My thoughts are with his family. Rest in peace.”
Ocasek, born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore in 1944, met bass player and future band mate Benjamin Orr after moving to Cleveland for high school.
The pair joined with guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboard player Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson to form the Cars in mid-1970s Boston. Ocasek was the main songwriter, sang lead vocals on most songs and played rhythm guitar.
The band’s self-titled debut album, featuring the singles “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll,” reached Number 18 on the Billboard album charts and put them on the leading edge of pop rock.
The Cars scored their first top-20 single, “Let’s Go,” in 1979 and launched a succession of hits throughout the 1980s such as “Shake It Up” and “Drive,” always identifiable through Ocasek’s distinctive vocals.
The band split up in 1988, and Orr died of pancreatic cancer at age 53 in 2000. The surviving members reunited for a final album, “Move Like This,” in 2010.
The band was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
After the final dissolution of the Cars, Ocasek, who often spoke of his dislike for touring, produced dozens of albums, released solo material, wrote poetry and made visual art.
Ocasek was married three times and had six sons, two from each relationship.
His third wife, supermodel Paulina Porizkova, announced in May 2018 that the couple had separated after 28 years of marriage.