Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees once said that “an artist is an artist because he is not happy with the world, so he creates his own existence.” And the singer and composer, who died Sunday at the age of 62 after a series of health issues, certainly created a memorable existence for himself.
“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,” his spokesperson confirmed in a statement. “The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time.”
“I Started a Joke”
“How Deep Is Your Love”
As one-third of the Bee Gees, Gibb was part of the sixth top-selling pop group of all time, selling more than 200 million records worldwide, notching 60 No. 1 hits around the globe and winning nine Grammy Awards, including Lifetime Achievement and Legend citations. Along with his Bee Gees siblings Barry and the late Maurice, his twin who died in 2003, Gibb has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Gibb was also the most prolific member of the band as a solo artist with six albums including this year’s “Titanic Requiem,” a classical piece co-written with his youngest son Robin-John. The latter, he wrote during January in the British newspaper The Mail, “saved my life” while he was in the throes of the health crisis that ultimately killed him.
“Getting involved in the routine of composing and singing again really saved me,” Gibb wrote. “The ‘Titanic Requiem’ has been a huge investment for me — physically, emotionally and financially — and has come at a difficult time.” Yet Gibb was upbeat, noting that “I’m happy to say I’m nearly better…It’s taken its toll, naturally, but the strange thing is that I’ve never felt seriously ill. I’ve mostly felt great…I am not and have never been at death’s door.”
But just days after “Titanic Requiem’s” release, Gibb — who was first hospitalized with abdominal pains in August of 2010 and was subsequently diagnosed with colon cancer that spread to his liver — underwent intestinal surgery. On April 14 he fell into a pneumonia-induced coma, where his family — including brother Barry, second wife Dwina and his three children — kept a vigil until his death.
Gibb once noted that music also “saved me from a life of crime,” and he wasn’t joking.
Gibb, who was 35 minutes older than Maurice, was one of five children born to Hugh and Barbara Gibb on the Isle of Man in England. The family later moved to Manchester, where Robin and Barry have acknowledged indulging in petty theft. Maurice once remembered Robin setting fire to several billboards as well. But the three oldest Gibb brothers were also drawn to music. “The real world was just too real and we didn’t want to be a part of normal life,” Robin once said. “We wanted to create a magic world for the three of us. The three of us were like one person, and we were doing what we needed to do: make music. It became an obsession.”
He, Barry and Maurice had started performing in Manchester, but their career really flourished after the family moved to Australia, in 1958 — even performing aboard the ship that took them there. Their father helped push the trio, known as the Rattlesnakes and then Wee Johnny Hayes & the Bluecasts, to radio and talent shows, and it was a DJ named Bill Gates who came up with the Bee Gees moniker. The brothers, who had all left school during their early teens, started releasing singles in 1963, while its first album, “The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs,” came out in 1965.
The trio scored its first big hit with “Spicks and Specks” in 1966, which preceded their return to England that year. They were signed by manager Robert Stigwood, who was working for Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS organization, and in 1967 the Bee Gees signed with Polydor Records in the U.K. and Atco in the U.S., scoring a quick series of hits that included “New York Mining Disaster 1941,,” “To Love Somebody,” “Holiday,” “Massachusetts” and “Words.” But there were rivalries and creative differences in the group; a frustrated Robin left the Bee Gees after 1969’s “Odessa” album, releasing one album (“Robin’s Reign”) and scoring a No. 2 U.K. hit with “Saved By the Bell.”
Robin returned to the group in 1970, and the Bee Gees gained momentum with “Lonely Days,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (their first No. 1 hit in the U.S.), “My World” and “Run to Me.” Hooking up with producer Arif Mardin for 1974’s “Mr. Natural,” the trio began to move in an R&B direction. “Main Course” made the Bee Gees disco club favorites in 1975 with hits such as “Jive Talkin’ ” and “Nights on Broadway,” and its contributions to the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack in 1977 made them a pop phenomenon, holding the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 100 for 25 weeks from December 1977-August 1978 with their own songs and hits they composed for youngest brother Andy Gibb and Yvonne Elliman. “Saturday NIght Fever” became the fourth top-selling album worldwide, and despite co-starring in the ill conceived film adaptation of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1978, the group was back on top the following year with “Spirits Having Flown.”
The Bee Gees’ greatest success came during a rough patch in Gibb’s personal life, however. He and his first wife — NEMS secretary Molly Hullis, the mother of children Spencer and Melissa — separated during the mid-70s and divorced in 1980. Gibb also spent a couple of hours in jail three years later for violating the couple’s agreement about not speaking publicly about the marriage. But in 1980 Gibb also met Dwina Murphy; the two married and had Robin-John in 1983 but made headlines a few years later when it was revealed Dwina was bisexual as well as an ordained disciple of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.” The two had what Gibb called an “open relationship” that included extramarital affairs. “He’s free to go wherever he wants and see whoever he wants,” Dwina told one interviewer. “But, even if we’re away from each other for periods of time, there’s a bond and nothing’s going to break it.”
Gibb, who released three more solo albums during the mid-80s, said that he and Dwina “have achieved a wonderful combination of freedom and closeness. I don’t worry about Dwina finding someone else and I don’t have the urge to settle down with someone else, either. Jealousy is energy-draining. Many marriages fail because of it.”
Laid low by the deaths of brothers Andy in 1988 — who died at age 30 at Robin’s home in Oxfordshire, England — and Maurice in 2003, Robin and Barry put the Bee Gees on an indefinite hiatus while they pursued their own creative endeavors. Robin’s 2002 solo album “Magnet” hit the charts in the U.K. and Germany, and he released “My Favourite Christmas Carols” in 2006. He also performed occasional solo shows, and in 2011 he hit the charts again by joining The Soldiers, a trio of active British military personnel, for a cover of the Bee Gees’ “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.” The two surviving Gibb brothers, meanwhile, oversaw an extensive Bee Gees reissue campaign and performed together for special events such as a benefit for the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute and the Prince’s Trust 30th Birthday Concert in London, both in 2006. The two also appeared together on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing,” and they inducted ABBA into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Gibb brothers were also working with director/producer Steven Spielberg on a film version of the Bee Gees’ story.
Funeral details have not been announced.