The former frontman of the Velvet Underground and a prolific artist in his own right, Reed is known as the godfather of punk and has been a downtown icon for over four decades.

Born Lewis Rabinowitz, the future singer was raised in a middle-class family on Long Island. Reed's teenage years were hardly conventional: At 17, his parents sent him to a mental institution on account of his "homosexual tendencies," and he was subjected to electroshock therapy. He eventually made his way to Syracuse University where he found a mentor in poet Delmore Schwartz; he later dropped out and moved to New York City, where he teamed up with avant-garde cellist John Cale to found the Velvet Underground. The group soon attracted the backing of Andy Warhol and became the house band to the Factory scene. The group's abrasive sound and accounts of junkies, transvestites, and hustlers stood in stark contrast to the peace-and-love mood of the late-1960s, but their music is widely acknowledged as the starting point for punk and everything that came after it. After four seminal albums, in 1970 Reed left the band and embarked on a solo career. He's since released over twenty albums, although his biggest hit remains the David Bowie-produced "Walk on the Wild Side" in 1972. Reed's solo career has been erratic and he's gone through long dry stretches; still, several of his albums are regarded as classics and his status as the poet laureate of the New York City underground remains unchallenged. [Image via Getty]