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Joey Ramone, who helped ignite the punk revolution as lead singer of The Ramones, has died aged 49.

Ramone had been ill with lymphatic cancer for some time and died on Sunday afternoon as U2's song In a Little While played in his room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

'Just as the song finished, Joey finished,' his mother, Charlotte Lesher, told reporters. ' He's free now. He heard it and now he's gone.

'He was too, too young to go, but we'll always love him. People will never forget his music.'

Bono spoke to Ramone on Friday afternoon by telephone and at Sunday's show in Portland the band dedicated One to him - and then played The Ramones' I Remember You.

Songs like 'I Wanna Be Sedated,' 'Sheena Is a Punk Rocker' and 'Rockaway Beach' became punk classics in the 1970's, inspiring a generation of rock groups from the Sex Pistols to 90's grunge bands.

The Ramones were later hailed as 'The Beatles of punk rock' for defining punk before punk took off.

'All the better-known punk groups that followed - The Sex Pistols, The Clash, whoever - they would be the first ones to say that without The Ramones the whole punk movement never would have happened,' said Spin magazine editor-in-chief Alan Light.

It was the band's tour of the UK that kicked off on July 4th, 1976, that many regard as having a key influence on later legends such as The Pistols and The Clash.

And U2. Last December, when U2 were in New York to play at Irving Plaza, the band invited Joey Ramone along to their Saturday Night Live performance.

At the Irving Plaza show Bono said 'more than anybody, the band that got us started when we were fifteen, and sixteen... was the music of the Ramones. So I want to sing this for Joey Ramone.'

The band played I Remember You. MTV's report of Ramone's death, includes Bono and Edge underlining that U2 wouldn't exist but for The Ramones 'three-chord, four-chord music, that's what got us started.'

After talking to the singer in hospital on Friday, Bono told MTV that the band had said a prayer for Joey Ramone because 'I do believe your prayers can ease people.'

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