His musical roots were in jazz, but his songs ranged from folk to pop to classical to opera, creating a soundtrack beloved by generations of Italians.
Lucio Dalla, one of Italy's most prolific singer-songwriters, died Thursday in Switzerland during a European concert tour.
Dalla, 68, apparently died of a heart attack in a Montreux hotel after eating breakfast, according to his agency, Ph.D srl Music Management, which is based in Dalla's native city of Bologna, Italy.
Dalla had just given a concert Wednesday evening in the Swiss city known for its music and "was in fine form," said Pascal Pellegrino, the director of Montreux's "culture season." Pellegrino said the performance was warmly applauded and Dalla stayed on to chat with fans.
Dalla wrote all of his own lyrics in a career that spanned decades. He was also a noted musician, playing the clarinet, saxophone and piano.
Dalla's haunting melody "Caruso" sold 9 million copies worldwide and was sung by the late opera great Luciano Pavarotti with Dalla at a 1992 concert in Modena.
He toured abroad frequently, including in the United States, sometimes with another famed Italian folksong writer, Francesco De Gregori.
Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, was among those quickly paying tribute Thursday.
"(Dalla was) a strong and original voice who contributed to renew and promote Italian song in the world. He was an artist beloved by so many Italians," the president said in a condolence message to Dalla's family.
Promoted by another Italian singer and songwriter, Gino Paoli, Dalla started performing in the 1960s. In 1977, Dalla's first album with songs written by himself — "How Deep is the Sea" — came out. He produced new albums nearly every year over the next few years, including the popular "Banana Republic."
Another popular song was his 1990 "Beware of the Wolf" on the album "Cambio," which sold nearly 1.4 million copies, according to Dalla's website.
His version of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" was performed in Rome's Santa Cecilia auditorium in 1997, and he wrote an opera "Tosca. Amore disperato," inspired by Puccini's Tosca.
Dalla also composed songs for some of Italy's most famous film directors, including Mario Monicelli, Michelangelo Antonioni, Carlo Verdone and Michele Placido.
The songwriter had eclectic artistic interests and was the curator of a contemporary art gallery in Bologna for many years.
Much of Dalla's work was inspired by his passion for the sea. He had a home on the Tremiti Islands, a tiny archipelago off Italy's southeastern coast.
"(He) lived his whole life with the desire to amaze and the desire to be amazed," Italian singer Claudio Baglioni was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency LaPresse.
Frank Jordans contributed from Geneva.