Oscar Peterson

TORONTO — Oscar Peterson, whose early talent, speedy fingers and musical genius made him one of the world's best known jazz pianists, has died. He was 82.

Peterson died at his home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga on Sunday, said Oliver Jones, a family friend and jazz musician. He said Peterson's wife and daughter were with him during his final moments. The cause of death was kidney failure, said Mississauga's mayor, Hazel McCallion.

"He's been going downhill in the last few months," McCallion said, calling Peterson a "very close friend."

During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis in the '50s.

Peterson's impressive collection of awards include all of Canada's highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as a Lifetime Grammy (1997) and a spot in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

His growing stature was reflected in the admiration of his peers. Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard," while Count Basie once said "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard."

In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "one of the bright lights of jazz has gone out."

"He was a regular on the French stage, where the public adored his luminous style," Sarkozy said. "It is a great loss for us."

Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of Montreal, Peterson obtained a passion for music from his father, a railway porter and self-taught musician.

He got his real break as a surprise guest at Carnegie Hall in 1949.