Opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, beloved by millions of fans who heard him in venues ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to Dodger Stadium, died in the early hours of this morning (Sept. 6) at his home in Modena, Italy, after a year-plus battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.
Pavarotti was arguably more successful than any other post-war classical performer in straddling both the worlds of opera and pop culture, especially through his association with fellow singers Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras as the Three Tenors, as well as charity work with such pop icons as U2 and Mariah Carey.
Pavarotti was born in Modena on Oct. 12, 1935. An outstanding soccer player in his youth, he was drawn to the world of singing by his father, a fine singer in his own right. He debuted in La Boheme in Italy in 1961, and after making a name for himself in Europe, premiered in the U.S. in a 1965 performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. The rotund tenor became a true U.S. sensation in 1978, when his debut at the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast live on PBS.
While hardcore opera aficionados still breathlessly recall a 1972 performance of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment during which the tenor tossed off nine high C's, for sports fans around the world his signature aria, "Nessun dorma" (from Puccini's opera Tosca) is now forever associated with soccer's World Cup, thanks to Pavarotti's appearance at the 1990 Games.
As a recording artist, the tenor had stunning success. Over the course of his career, he was featured on some 110 releases, including 18 albums that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Chart.
Pavarotti shared a particular triumph with Carreras and Domingo in a 1990 performance in Rome that gave birth to the Three Tenors concept, in which opera selections were alternated with more light-hearted fare. Both the audio and video versions of that performance, which the trio repeated on tour for years after, sold in the millions, far surpassing any previous classically oriented recordings. A 1994 live album, recorded at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, peaked at No. 4 on The Billboard 200.
In 1995, Pavarotti turned heads by collaborating with Irish rock band U2 and producer Brian Eno for the track "Miss Sarajevo," which was released under the moniker "Passengers."
Pavrotti's last album, 2003's "Ti Adoro," was a more pop-oriented affair that featured an homage to tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), with whom he was frequently compared. "In Caruso's day, every line had to rhyme," Pavarotti told Billboard in 2003. "So always there were more trivial ideas, rhyming 'amore' [love] with 'cuore' [heart]. These were noble sentiments, but staple ideas of the genre. But here, now, there is more drama. Love is there, always, but there are more surprises, more kinds of stories."
Pavarotti gave his last opera performance on March 13, 2004, at the New York Metropolitan Opera. He sang the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca, after which he received a 12-minute standing ovation. In December of that year, he embarked on a farewell tour, but many dates were scrapped due to his failing health.
He was healthy enough to sing at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy, but required surgery that July to remove a pancreatic tumor. He made no public appearances after that time.
In the 2003 Billboard interview, Pavarotti was asked whether he planned to still make the occasional performance as the concert element of his career wound down. "Maybe once I retire," he mused, "I'll sing in the shower. I've never done that before."
Pavarotti is survived by wife Nicoletta Mantovani, four daughters and a granddaughter.
Read more of Billboard’s extensive coverage of opera great Luciano Pavarotti’s life and influence on the music world , including an in-depth look at how his passing will impact all of classical music .