Bee Gees' Robin Gibb dies after long cancer battle

May 21, 2012 - 7:46 AM
Obit Robin Gibb

In this Nov, 6, 1979, file photo, the Bee Gees from left, Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb sing close into the microphone at a Miami Beach concert in Miami. November 6, 1979. A representative said on Sunday, May 20, 2012, that Robin Gibb has died. He was 62. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin, File)

LONDON (AP) — With his carefully tended hair, tight trousers and perfect harmonies, Robin Gibb, along with his brothers Maurice and Barry, defined the disco era. As part of the Bee Gees — short for the Brothers Gibb — they created dance floor classics like "Stayin Alive," ''Jive Talkin'," and "Night Fever" that can still get crowds onto a dance floor.

The catchy songs, with their falsetto vocals and relentless beat, are familiar pop culture mainstays. There are more than 6,000 cover versions of the Bee Gees hits, and they are still heard on dance floors and at wedding receptions, birthday parties, and other festive occasions.

Robin Gibb, 62, died Sunday "following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery," his family announced in a statement released by Gibb's representative Doug Wright.

Gibb was the second disco-era star to die this week. Donna Summer — who earned the Queen of Disco title by singing "Last Dance" and "I Feel Love" — died of cancer in Florida on Thursday.

The Bee Gees, born in England but raised in Australia, began their career in the musically rich 1960s but it was their soundtrack for the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever" that sealed their success. The album's signature sound — some called it "blue-eyed soul" — remains instantly recognizable more than 40 years after its release.

The album remains a turning point in popular music history, ending the hard rock era and ushering in a time when dance music ruled supreme. It became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time with its innovative fusion of harmony and pulsing beats. The movie launched the career of a young John Travolta whose snake-hipped moves to the sounds of "You Should Be Dancing" established his reputation as a dancer and forever linked his image to that of the Bee Gees.

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow predicted that fans will dance to "Stayin' Alive" and other songs Bee Gees songs for generations to come.

"Robin has had an indelible impact on music," he said.

Despite financial success, Robin Gibb and his brothers endured repeated tragedies. Maurice died suddenly of intestinal and cardiac problems in 2003. Their younger brother Andy Gibb, who also enjoyed considerable chart success as a solo artist, had died in 1988 just after turning 30. He suffered from an inflamed heart muscle attributed to a severe viral infection.

Robin Gibb himself took care of his health and, at the time of his death, was a vegan who did not drink alcohol.

Gibb was for decades a familiar figure on the pop stage, starting out in the 1960s when the Bee Gees were seen as talented Beatles copycats. They sounded so much like the Beatles at first that there were strong rumors that the Bee Gees' singles were really the Beatles performing under another name.

Many late-'60s bands were quickly forgotten, but the Bee Gees transformed themselves into an enduring A-List powerhouse with the almost unbelievable, and certainly unexpected, success of the song "Stayin' Alive" and others from the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack that accompanied the movie.

With this second wind, the Bee Gees sold more than 200 million records and had a long string of successful singles, making their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Saturday Night Fever" — actually a compilation album featuring the Bee Gees but including songs by other performers — represented the pinnacle of Gibb's career, but he enjoyed more than 40 years of prominence as a Bee Gee, as a solo artist, and as a songwriter and producer for other artists.

The Bee Gees consisted of Barry Gibb, the eldest, and twins Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb. Their three-part harmonies became their musical signature, particularly in the disco phase, when Barry's matchless falsetto often dominated, and they were renowned for their wide-ranging songwriting and producing skills.

The Gibbs were born in England on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea, but moved to Australia with their parents in 1958 when they were still quite young and began their musical career there. They had been born into a musical family, with a father who was a drummer and bandleader and a mother who liked to sing.

After several hits in Australia, their career started to really take off when they returned to England in 1967 and linked up with promoter Robert Stigwood.

After several hits and successful albums, Robin Gibb left the group in 1969 after a series of disagreements, some focusing on whether he or Barry should be lead vocalist. He released some successful solo material — most notably "Saved by the Bell" — before rejoining his brothers in 1970 and scoring a major hit with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart."

The Gibbs then suffered some slack years — searching for a style that could sustain them in the post-Beatles era — and Barry Gibb started experimenting with falsetto vocals, first on backup, and then in the lead position.

The brothers were at a low point when they went into a French studio to try to come up with some songs for the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack at the urging of Stigwood.

The success of those tunes — closely linked to the popularity of the movie, and the power of the disco movement — changed their lives forever, giving them a string of number one hits.

After several years of chart success, the Gibbs spent much of the 1980s writing songs and producing records for other artists, working closely with top talents such as Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton. They also continued touring and releasing their own records.

Gibb also released more solo albums, including "Secret Agent," during this period.

The band continued in the 1990s, gaining recognition for their body of work with induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Then came Maurice's sudden death in 2003. The surviving brothers announced that the name Bee Gees would be retired with Maurice Gibb's death, although Robin and Barry did collaborate on projects and Robin Gibb continued his solo career and extensive touring despite mounting health problems.

He had to cancel several engagements in 2011, including one with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and he showed an alarming weight loss on his rare public appearances. He was hospitalized briefly in 2011 with what doctors said was an inflamed colon and had surgery for intestinal problems in March, 2012.

One of his final projects was "The Titanic Requiem," a classical work he co-wrote with his son RJ, that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra premiered in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Robin Gibb remained emotionally attached to the Isle of Man, keeping a house there as well as homes in rural Oxfordshire, England, and Miami.

He also became involved with numerous charities and worked to establish a permanent memorial to the veterans of Britain's World War II Bomber Command and recorded songs honoring British veterans.

Gibb is survived by his second wife, Dwina, and four children, as well as his mother Barbara, his older brother, fellow Bee Gee Barry Gibb, and his sister Lesley Evans, who lives in Australia.