Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees Dies at 62
The singer-songwriter was the middle brother in the trio that transcended the worlds of pop, soul and disco to become one of the top-grossing music acts of all time.
Robin Gibb, one-third of the singer-songwriter brother act that turned out nine No. 1 hits as the blue-eyed soul, pop and disco sensation The Bee Gees, died Sunday in London, his spokesperson confirmed via a statement. He was 62.
"The family of Robin Gibb, of The Bee Gees, announce with great sadness that Robin passed away today following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery," reads the statement. "The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time."
Gibb, whose clear vibrato lead was a hallmark of the group’s earliest songs like 1968's "I Started a Joke," had been battling colon and liver cancer for more than a year, but in early March, he said he was improving.
“I am beating cancer and can't wait to carry on with my work,” he said then. But he was rushed to the hospital March 25 for more surgery and had to cancel a series of performances.
Gibb and his son R.J. recently completed work on Titanic Requiem, a piece for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that premiered April 12 during a concert in London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the British luxury liner. Gibb was too ill to attend.
Barry Gibb, 65, the oldest in the group and whose famous falsetto was The Bee Gees’ trademark in their later years, is the last surviving member of the top-selling brother act in music history.
Robin’s twin brother Maurice Gibb (born 35 minutes earlier) died in January 2003 during an operation to remove an intestinal blockage. He was 53. Younger brother Andy Gibb -- who hit No. 1 in the U.S. with his first three singles in 1977-78 -- died in 1988 at age 30.
In more than 40 years of recording, The Bee Gees were one of the top-grossing acts of all time, selling an estimated 220 million records worldwide. When they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney had outsold them.
The Bee Gees also wrote all of their hits (Robin and Barry did the lion’s share), which include the 1970s disco staples “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever,” the soothing “How Deep Is Your Love” and the soul classic “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart.” Robin and Barry also wrote for such stars as Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick and Frankie Valli.
The Bee Gees tasted their first success as a Beatlesque ensemble in Australia, where their parents had moved the family of seven from the Isle of Man, with the single “Spicks and Specks.” They had a string of five consecutive Top 20 singles in the U.S. before finally cracking the Top 10 with “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke.” But in 1969, after the trio had returned to England, Robin felt producer-manager Robert Stigwood was favoring Barry, so he left for a solo career, carving out a U.K. hit with “Saved by the Bell” from the album Robin’s Reign. Neither charted in the U.S.
Barry and Maurice also were going their separate ways, but by early 1970, the three were together again and in (three-part) harmony. The reunion spawned the soulful “Lonely Days,” which reached No. 3 in the U.S., and their first No. 1 hit, the ballad “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which originally was offered to Andy Williams.
In the mid-’70s, The Bee Gees heeded the advice of Eric Clapton and headed to Miami to record and hone their disco style on 1975’s Main Course, their first charting R&B album. The funky LP featured the first prominent use of Barry’s falsetto and the group’s second No. 1 hit, “Jive Talkin’,” as well as “Nights on Broadway” and “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love).”
The group’s 14th original album, 1976’s Children of the World, produced another No. 1, “You Should Be Dancing,” and the Top 5 ballad “Love So Right.” The Bee Gees were riding high, but they would reach a crazy new level of stardom with their work on the soundtrack for the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever.
With Stigwood producing the movie starring John Travlota, the brothers Gibb didn’t get involved until postproduction, reportedly writing the songs “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” during one weekend in a French studio. All three would reach No. 1 in the U.S. Meanwhile, the soundtrack would sell more than 15 million copies and stay atop the album charts for 24 straight weeks. It remains among the two dozen best-selling albums in U.S. history.
Talking about the pressure to write the songs for Saturday Night Fever, Gibb said in a 2008 interview: "Having a deadline sharpens you up. It gets you out of bed and it stops you going to bed, too."
The Bee Gees' follow-up album was 1979’s Spirits Having Flown, which yielded worldwide sales of 30 million albums — a personal best — and three more No. 1 hits: “Too Much Heaven,” “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside Out,” extending their string of consecutive No. 1 singles to six, a record surpassed only by Whitney Houston’s seven. Robin, however, contributed lead vocals on just one track, “Living Together,” as Barry’s sound had clearly taken over.
But with the disco era fading and an ill-fated attachment to the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band hurting their credibility, The Bee Gees’ influence would wane, and the group was a nonfactor in the 1980s. They remained active until Maurice’s death in 2003. Robin released solo albums in 2003 and 2006.
In addition to R.J., Gibb is survived by his wife, Dwina; his daughter, Melissa; and another son, Spencer.
Watch the Bee Gees perform “Nights on Broadway” in 1975 below: