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Nearly 5 years old, the future troubador fishes from a bridge over Ontario's Pigeon River in 1950. He was diagnosed with polio the same year. He listened to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Little Richard — and learned to play the ukulele.
Young (far right) met Stephen Stills soon after dropping out of high school. In 1966, he moved to Southern California and cofounded Buffalo Springfield with (from left) Stills, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin. The million-selling song "For What It's Worth" drove the success of their debut album, Buffalo Springfield.
Neil Young stands still long enough to be photographed with Crazy Horse — the backing band he recruited to record his second album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) — on Malibu Beach in 1975. From left, they are drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, rhythm guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro and Young. The four still tour together today.
In 1969, Young joined the trio of Crosby, Stills and Nash as a full member, forming one of rock's first supergroups. Tensions abounded, but Young (far right) contributed a potent anthem when he wrote "Ohio" just a day after the 1970 Kent State massacre.
Young was a bona fide solo star by the time he released his third album, After the Gold Rush, in 1971. The album contains such memorable songs as "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Southern Man." The photograph on the cover was "solarized" to hide the imperfect focus.
1972's Harvest, showcasing iconic ballads such as "Old Man" and the chart-topping "Heart of Gold," became a tremendous hit, yet fame troubled Neil Young: "It put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch."
The mellower tone of Harvest reflected Young's new life on a ranch in Northern California and the birth of his son, Zeke, with actress Carrie Snodgress (left). In 1978 he married his current wife, Pegi. Their son, Ben, like Zeke, suffers from cerebral palsy, their daughter, Amber, from epilepsy (as does Young).
Snodgrass, Universal Pictures/Film Favorites/Getty Images; the family, Joel Bernstein
Young shares a mic with Crazy Horse's Billy Talbot during an L.A. gig on the band's Rust Never Sleeps tour in 1978. Having brought out two albums in nine months — Comes a Time and Rust Never Sleeps — Young was being "rediscovered" by old fans and hailed by new ones.
Young reunites with CS&N for a performance in 1985. Young experimented with techno, rockabilly and grunge music throughout that decade. "The '80s, artistically, [were] very strong for me," he says. "I was able to realize I wasn't in a box, and I wanted to establish that."
Young founded Farm Aid in 1985 along with Willie Nelson (center) and John Mellencamp (right). The charity event united three of his personal themes: activism, environmentalism and philanthropy. In 1986 he and Pegi established the Bridge School to help children, like their own, with severe impairments.
Young and the man he credits with his best work — David Briggs, the late producer of 18 of his albums — are all smiles on the night in 1995 when Neil was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. Two years later he was honored by the Rock Hall as a member of Buffalo Springfield.
Pedal-steel player Ben Keith — here with Young in 2007, three years before his death — was at Neil's side for almost 40 years. Young himself had suffered a brain aneurysm, then nearly bled to death from a ruptured artery, in 2005. From that year on, his work assumed a growing spirituality.
Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Neil Young rock out during a Crazy Horse concert at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena in Stateline, Nev., on Aug. 9 of this year. They had just released Americana, a tribute to offbeat national anthems.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
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