Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds dies

Just a few weeks ago, Carrie Fisher was in London publicising her new book, The Princess Diarist, and was a guest on Graham Norton’s chat show, she’d also been spending a lot of time in London and had just bought a flat in Chelsea to live when she came to the UK. A couple of week’s later news broke that she’d suffered a cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles, four days later she was dead. A film documentary, Bright Lights, about Carrie and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, was premiered in Cannes last May and was due to be aired in early 2017. The content about life for the Fisher and how Carrie was caring for her mother who was still performing at the age of 84. The day after Carrie passed, her brother, Todd, announced that his mother had suffered a severe stroke and died the following day.

Debbie was born Mary Frances Reynolds on 1st April 1932 in El Paso, Texas and was discovered in 1948 by talent scouts from both Warner Brothers and MGM at the Miss Burbank contest, four years later she got her first starring role when, still only 19, burst out of a cake in Singin’ in the Rain. The film starred Gene who also directed the moved and it was him and co-director Stanley Donen took a gamble on the inexperienced actress and it paid off. Debbie said, “I learned a lot from Gene. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian – the most exacting director I’ve ever worked for. Every so often, he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before.”

In 1955 she’d married singer Eddie Fisher and were the parents to Carrie and Todd, they divorced four years later. In 1960 she married millionaire businessman Harry Karl which ended in 1973 and then between 1984 and 1996 she was married to real estate developer Richard Hamlett.

Her first movie role was in 1948 as an uncredited girlfriend in June Bride and went on to star in over 85 films including; Susan Slept Here (1954), The Tender Trap (1955), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), The Mating Game (1959), Goodbye Charlie (1964), Charlotte’s Web (1973), a cameo role in The Bodyguard (1992) and her last film was Behind the Candelabra in 2013.

It was the song Tammy, named after her character in Tammy and the Bachelor in 1957 that gave her her only UK hit single which reached number two in the UK behind The Cricket’ That’ll Be The Day, but in the States it spent five weeks at the top. A couple of years later the song’s title inspired a young Berry Gordy to name his newly launched record label after it, but Tammy was already taken, so he initially called his label Tamla.

In 1991, she bought a hotel and casino in Las Vegas and in it she displayed many items from her extensive range of Hollywood costumes and in her later years she a relentless fund-raiser for The Thalians, a charity that provides mental health services for all ages.

In 2015 she received a Governors Award and an SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Life Achievement Award but was unable to attend following a small stroke. The screen Actors Guild award was presented to her on stage by Carrie.

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Rick Parfitt dies

Christmas Eve afternoon and news comes across that Rick Parfitt, the veteran rocker from the legendary Status Quo had been saved from death following a heart attack by a kebab. Within half an hour, that news came that he had died.

Rick, who I once had the pleasure of meeting in 1980 when they came to the BBC when their then-current hit What You’re Proposing was in the chart, was such a normal, lovely down-to-earth guy. He was born in Woking, Surrey in 1948 and learned to play guitar when he was 11. In the mid-sixties, he was playing in a pub on London’s Goodge Street when a representative from a holiday camp on Hayling Island approached Rick’s father saying he was impressed and wanted to offer him a summer job at the camp. Rick accepted and joined with two people performing under the name The Harrison Twins and became a trio calling themselves the Highlights. They were then asked to perform at Butlins in Minehead and there is where he met Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan and Francis Rossi who were performing under the name the Spectres. The band’s manager decided that they needed another singer and Rick was invited to join and they changed their name to Traffic Jam.

In 1967, another change of name took place and the called themselves The Status Quo for their first five singles including the hits Pictures Of Matchstick Men and the Marty Wilde-penned Ice In The Sun, but then they dropped ‘The’ and forever known as Status Quo.

Over the next 42 years, the line-up changed several times, but Rossi and Parfitt were the mainstays throughout and in that time they amassed 67 UK hit singles and 45 hit albums, which, for a group, is a record for singles and only beaten by the Rolling Stones for the albums.

Their only UK number one was the 1975’s Down Down but arguably their most famous song is Rockin’ All Over The World, a John Fogerty-penned song which they those to open the Live Aid Concert with in 1985 after Bob Geldof suggested they should open the show. It even got Prince Charles clapping along.

Rick has had his share of health problems, in 1997 he underwent a quadruple heart bypass operation after doctors strongly advised him to change his lifestyle of drink and drugs. In 2005 he had a throat cancer scare, December 2011 another heart attack and again in August 2014 which is the one that finally made him give up the bad habits. He said in an interview with the Daily Mail, “That last heart attack has made me quit smoking and drinking after 50 years, I’ve been drinking a bottle of wine and smoking 30 cigarettes a day.”

In 2010 both Parfitt and Rossi were awarded an OBE for services to music and in 2015 he and his wife Lyndsay set up a real estate company called Status Homes which was based in Marbella, Spain. In June 2016, whilst on tour in Turkey, he suffered yet another heart attack. He pulled out of the tour, although the band carried on, and flown back to the UK. He then went to Marbella to recover. He was admitted to hospital on Thursday evening (22nd Dec) and died two days later following complications to a shoulder injury incurred by a previous fall.

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Prog rock guitarist Greg Lake has died

I can’t recalled an occasion when two members of a trio both died in the same year. In March this year Keith Emerson died after battling depression and a degenerative nerve issue and just nine months later his band mate, guitarist, bass player and vocalist with the prog-rock trio Emerson Lake and Palmer, Greg Lake has died from cancer.

He was born in Poole, Dorset in 1947 and was at school with guitarist Robert Fripp who went on to become founding member of King Crimson. Fripp invited him to join Crimson originally as guitarist but then Fripp requested Lake to take over on bass which he duly agreed. Pete Sinfield was Crimson’s primary songwriter, but Lake did contribute some songs to their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King.

In 1970 he left and got together with former Nice keyboard player Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer who had been the drummer with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster and formed Emerson Lake and Palmer. They remained together until 1979 although there was gaps when each did their own thing. Emerson charted one solo hit – Honky Tonk Train Blues which reached number 21 in April 1976 just four months after Greg Lake’s only solo hit, I Believe in Father Christmas, reached number two – one of four songs that were unable to unseat Bohemian Rhapsody.

In 1986 he then was reacquainted with Keith Emerson and then brought in Cozy Powell to formed Emerson, Lake and Powell who stuck it out for just a year.

Since then he has periodically toured on his own and, on occasions, getting together with Keith Emerson but in July 2010 the original trio reformed for a one-off concert at the High Voltage rock festival in London.

He had been battling what the ELP Facebook page called “a long and stubborn battle with cancer” and died on 7th December aged 69.

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Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen dies

Leonard Cohen’s music was often referred to as being totally dull and dreary and, as Mark Radcliffe stated “He was misunderstood and it was only the uneducated who would have thought that”.

Montreal-born Cohen was the grandson of a well-respected Rabbi and in his early years showed a passion for country music and in his teen years formed a country and western band called the Buckskin Boys, this was all whilst studying English at McGill University. He showed a natural talent for poetry and a literary career was looking promising. He began writing professionally in the mid-fifties and his first published collection was Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. His second was The Spice-Box of Earth five years later and then in 1964 came the provocatively titled Flowers for Hitler which won him the Quebec literary award.

He served a brief spell at Columbia University, New York before setting off for Europe where he landed on the Greek island of Hydra which is where he met a lady called Marianne Jensen with whom he became romantically linked and she was the inspiration for his song So Long, Marianne. In the mid-sixties he headed for Nashville via New York where he met Judy Collins, he played some of his songs to her and Judy was instantly taken with Suzanne. Leonard gave her the song and she recorded it first. You can read more about this song in the Single of the Week archive which I wrote back in August. He and Collins became lifelong friends, she even helped him when, at an anti-Vietnam war benefit concert in 1967, he panicked and fled the stage, it was Judy who calmed him and coaxed him back to the stage.

He began touring in 1970 across the USA and his native Canada and even appeared at the Isle of Wight festival later the same year. He released a number of albums at regular intervals – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977), Recent Songs (1979), Various Positions (1984) and I’m Your Man (1988). Arguably his best known song, Hallelujah, which came from the 84 album Various Positions, has been cover by a number of artists including Jeff Buckley and Alexandra Burke.

In the early 2000s Cohen was running into financial trouble and it was revealed that he fired his manager, Kelley Lynch, in 2004 amidst allegations she had stolen all of his money, leaving him on the brink of bankruptcy, and forcing him to begin touring again to raise funds. Lynch initially denied everything and insisted on a jury trial which she got. It didn’t go her way, she was found guilty and served 18 months of her five year sentence. Cohen issued this statement after the verdict was announced, “I want to thank the defendant, Ms Kelley Lynch, for insisting on a jury trial, thus exposing to the light of day her massive depletion of my retirement savings and yearly earnings, and allowing the court to observe her profoundly unwholesome, obscene and relentless strategies to escape the consequences of her wrongdoing”.

In 2008 Leonard’s friend, Simon Cowell, whose company, Syco, owns the rights to the song introduced it into the X-Factor. The song was chosen for Alexandra Burke who won the series. On the back of Burke’s win both Cohen and Buckley’s versions were all released and the Christmas chart of 2008 had Burke at number one, Buckley at number two and Cohen at number 36. The Daily Mail reported that Syco was earning £250,000 a day in royalties. Cohen must have a happy man as, not only did he earn a stack of royalties, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He only recorded one album in the nineties but then was back on form in the 2000 releasing Ten New Songs (2001), Dear Heather (2004), Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) and his most recent album, You Want It Darker, which was produced by his son Adam, which was completed just five weeks before his death.

This year there have been a few surprising celebrity deaths, surprising in as much as the details of their illnesses were kept secret, David Bowie, Prince, Terry Wogan to name three and one has to wonder if the signs for Leonard were there because in a recent interview in the New Yorker magazine which he gave to tie-in with the album release, he declared his determination to keep working at his craft until the end. He said, “I’ve got some work to do, take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

Not only did Leonard pass away on the same date as the legendary broadcaster Jimmy Young, he was born on the same date too (21st September) albeit 13 years apart. Cohen was 82 and Young wasn’t – he was 95.

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50’s singer Kay Starr dies

Kay Starr, the lady they called the Hillybilly singer with the crossover appeal has died at the age of 94.

She was born Katherine Laverne Starks in Oklahoma and became known also as the Jukebox Queen because so many of her songs were on endless play on thousands of jukeboxes across America. Having served with Bob Crosby and his Orchestra in 1939 she was then briefly hired by Glenn Miller to temporarily replace his regular singer Marion Hutton but then she launched her solo career in 1946 and was soon described by the blues legend Billie Holliday as “the only white woman who could sing the blues”. In an interview in 1981 Kay said, “People who haven’t seen me either think I’m a 260-pound peroxide blonde or a 260-pound black woman. Whites sing one-two-three-four. I sing between the beat, in the cracks, any old way.”

She had a number of million-selling singles including her biggest hit, Wheel of Fortune which spent 10 weeks at the top of the US chart in February 1952. It sold very well in the UK but only on the sheet music chart as the UK hit parade didn’t begin until November of that year. She had two UK number ones, Comes A-Long A-Love in 1953 and Rock And Roll Waltz in 1956. She was the first act to chart using the words Rock and Roll in the title even though it was a waltz. She was also the first act to have her first and last UK hits being number ones.

In the mid-fifties when Rock and Roll swept in to washed away many performers she took to the road and spent the next three decades touring. She recorded a few albums in the sixties and in 1988 she performed with Helen O’Connell and Margaret Whiting in the show 3 Girls. Four years later she came to the UK to tour with Pat Boone on his April Love tour. In 2001 she appeared with Tony Bennett singing Blue and Sentimental on his album Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.

In recent years, she devoted herself to Native American affairs and was married six times. She died on 3rd November after suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.

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