Ray Charles, the musical innovator whose bold, effortless fusions left an indelible mark on the rock, soul and country music of the past half-century, died Thursday at his Beverly Hills home. He was 73.

The cause of death was complications of liver disease, according to his publicist, Jerry Digney.

The hard-working musician, blind since childhood, had undergone successful hip-replacement surgery last fall, canceling a concert tour for the first time in 53 years on the road. Other ailments, including liver failure, were diagnosed while he was recuperating from the surgery and his health continued to deteriorate.

Still, he moved forward with his latest recording project, working in the studio as recently as April on an album of duets with Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones and others.

Charles' last public appearance was on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer's studios on Washington Boulevard a historic landmark.

Charles' recordings from the early 1950s, such as "I've Got a Woman," combined gospel and rhythm and blues to form one of the cornerstones of rock 'n' roll and laid the foundation for soul music. His landmark 1962 album, "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," took the twang out of country music, bringing a sophistication and ambition to the genre that opened the door to its modernization.

His relatively modest showing on the pop charts — just 12 singles in the Top 10 -- fails to reflect his profound influence and stature in the music world. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, part of the institution's inaugural 10-member class that also included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis. He received the Recording Academy's lifetime achievement award at the 1987 Grammys.

"How do you deconstruct genius?" Jerry Wexler, the noted producer and record executive who worked on many of Charles' recordings for Atlantic Records, said Thursday. "He took the Lord's music and the devil's words and make this amalgam they call soul music.

"And as a performer, there is no one you can compare him to, and the distance to whoever is second is immeasurable. That's the way it is with Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin in their areas. No one has ever performed at the piano with as much charisma as Ray Charles."

Few would argue that. Sitting at the keyboard in front of his large band and his three shimmying backup singers, the Raelettes, Charles was a commanding stage figure. His trademark dark glasses added to his mystique, and he would lean back from the piano and sway to the music. The finishing touch was one of the most identifiable, emotive voices in pop music — a gravelly, elastic instrument that could be tearfully plaintive one moment and slyly salacious the next.

"Everyone felt like they knew Ray Charles and in a way they did, because he was embodied by his music," said Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records' co-founder. "We were on tour and playing these tobacco barns in the South and the crowd would just be packed in to see him. The women would come up to the bandstand and yell, 'Just let me touch him once!' It was like he had descended from heaven, a beloved idol and an inspiration to so many of us."

Ray Charles Robinson was born Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga., and moved with his family as an infant to Greenville, Fla. His childhood was marked by poverty and tragedy — he witnessed his brother's death when the younger boy fell into a washtub and drowned, and Ray was afflicted with glaucoma at 5. He had lost his sight by the time he was 7.

Charles, who sang in a Baptist church choir as a youngster and later discovered jazz though a friend's "Jazz at the Philharmonic" recordings, studied music at the State School for Deaf and Blind Children in St. Augustine, playing clarinet, piano and other instruments and learning to read music by Braille.

On his own as a teenager — his father died when Charles was 10 and his mother five years later — he began playing in bands around Florida. He moved to Seattle in 1947 and formed a trio, playing Nat King Cole-style jazz in area nightclubs.

It was there that Charles struck up a friendship with another teenage musician, Quincy Jones. The two met, according to the noted producer and musician, at "bebop sessions in the city's red light district."

"Ray's the one who got me turned on to writing," Jones said in a 1998 Times interview. "He'd sit there and tell me, 'See, this is a dotted quarter note, and the trumpets play this and the trombones do that.' I was 14 and he was 16. That was a long time ago."

Jones issued a statement Thursday saying, "There will never be another musician who did as much to break down the perceived walls of musical genres. Ray used to say that if he had a dime, he would give me a nickel. Well, I would give that nickel back to have him still be here with us, but I know that heaven has become a much better place with him in it."

Jones, who described Charles' musicianship as "unmatched," served as a composer or arranger on "The Great Ray Charles" and "The Genius of Ray Charles," two seminal Atlantic albums from the late 1950s that established Charles' jazz credentials. Charles sang a duet with Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You," a track from Jones' 1989 pop album, "Back on the Block."

Charles' group, the Maxin Trio, recorded its first R&B hit, "Confession Blues," in Los Angeles in 1949. Charles, who had dropped his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, released a single under his own name in 1951 for the Swing Time label, and it would have far more impact than its No. 5 R&B chart showing would suggest.