Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, who with brothers Barry and Maurice helped define the disco era with their falsetto harmonies and funky beats on smash hits such as “Stayin’ Alive” and “Jive Talkin’,” has died after a long fight with cancer. He was 62.
The singer had colon and liver cancer and, despite brief improvements in his health in recent months, passed away on Sunday evening.
“The family of Robin Gibb ... announce with great sadness that Robin passed away today following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery,” a statement posted on his official website said.
Hundreds of tributes poured on to the Twitter micro-blogging site, including from record labels and fellow musicians, and at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, the show was stopped for a moment of silence as a large black and white picture of Gibb was displayed against the stage’s backdrop.
Neil Portnow, chief executive of Grammy organization the Recording Academy said the six-time winner of the industry’s highest award “had an indelible impact on music.” “His distinctive vibrato voice was part of the trio’s signature harmony,” Portnow said in a statement. Fans “will continue to sing and dance to his music that will be ‘Stayin’ Alive’ for many generations to come.”
Gibb spent much of a career spanning six decades pursuing solo projects. But it was his part in one of pop’s most successful brother acts, the Bee Gees, that earned him fame and fortune.
Born in 1949 on the Isle of Man, Robin and his family moved to Manchester where the brothers performed in local cinemas. They went to live in Australia where the Bee Gees as a group was officially born, and in 1963 released the first single “The Battle of the Blue and the Grey.” Believing their future lay in Europe, the Gibb brothers travelled to England to pursue a career in music and had their first British number one with “Massachusetts” in 1967.
Launching the disco phenomenon
Rather than build on the early successes, the Bee Gees almost threw away the promising career they had worked so hard to achieve. After recording the double-LP set “Odessa,” the siblings fell out over which track should be the single and Robin walked out. Two years later the Gibbs were back together, and the 1970s was to belong to them.
Early in the decade they released the ballads “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which topped the US charts in 1971. They struggled to maintain the momentum and critics felt the brothers had become stale until, in 1975, the Bee Gees changed course with an emphasis on dance-friendly tunes featuring high harmonies on their 13th album “Main Course.” It produced the catchy chart-topper “Jive Talkin’,” which then led to an invitation to contribute to the soundtrack for the upcoming movie “Saturday Night Fever.” The Bee Gees’ contributions would prove the pinnacle of their fame -- “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Night Fever” and “More Than a Woman” are all among their most recognizable songs.
The combination of the movie, starring John Travolta as the white-suited dance floor king Tony Manero, and the Bee Gees’ accompanying hits, helped launch the disco phenomenon the world over.
Long battle with illness
The Bee Gees achieved superstardom with album sales estimated today at up to 200 million, putting them in the same league as the likes of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.
Explaining their success, Bruce Elder of the All Music Guide wrote: “The group ... managed to meld every influence they’d ever embraced, from the Mills Brothers and the Beatles and early-’70s soul, into something of their own that was virtually irresistible.”
The magic did not last, however, and with the disco era waning Robin and his brothers faded quickly into obscurity. Their 1987 comeback album “E.S.P.” was moderately successful and included the hit “You Win Again,” although in the 1980s Robin was actively pursuing his solo career.
In 1988 Andy Gibb, the youngest brother who was also a pop star and teen idol, died aged just 30. Maurice passed away in January 2003, aged 53, of complications resulting from a twisted intestine, a condition that plagued Robin towards the end of his life.
According to online reports, in 2010, Robin had surgery for a blocked intestine and suffered further stomach pains last year forcing him to cancel a series of shows in Brazil. During surgery a tumor was discovered and he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and, subsequently, the liver.
His gaunt, frail appearance led to media speculation that he was seriously ill, but in February he spoke of a “spectacular” recovery and later that month performed on stage for the last time in a charity concert in London. But he fell ill again and was unable to attend the world premiere of “The Titanic Requiem,” his first classical work written with son Robin-John. London Reuters
A band that defined the disco era
The Bee Gees helped define the disco era with their falsetto harmonies and funky beats. The three brothers were among the most successful vocal groups in rock and roll history. In 1977, they became the first and only songwriters to place five songs in the Top Ten at the same time. Here are a few facts about the Bee Gees:
The Gibb brothers’ early recordings, including dramatic hits such as “Massachusetts” (1967), drew comparisons with the Beatles.
The trio reached the Top Ten with “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke” (both 1968) but split briefly after the relative failure of their concept album “Odessa” (1969).
They reunited in 1970 and had hits with “Lonely Days” (1970) and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (1971). They returned to the charts in 1975 with “Main Course,” in which they produced a new sound with dance rhythms and a funk beat.
Spearheading the new sound was Barry Gibb, who sang falsetto.
“Jive Talkin’,” the first single off the album, became their second American number one single.It was followed up with the album “Children of the World,” which yielded the hits “You Should Be Dancing” and “Love So Right.”
Recorded in Miami, it put the Bee Gees at the forefront of the disco movement, which their work on the soundtrack album of the film “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) would popularize and define.
The “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack album reigned as the top-selling album in history until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” -- which Jackson acknowledged was inspired by Saturday Night Fever -- surpassed it in the 1980s. Reuters