By David Browne
Robin Gibb, one-third of the Bee Gees, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer, his spokesperson has confirmed via a statement. Gibb was 62 years old.
“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.”
Two years ago, Gibb battled colon and liver cancer, but despite making what he called a “spectacular recovery,” a secondary tumor recently developed, complicated by a case of pneumonia. The singer was hospitalized in mid-April and fell into a coma at one point, although the singer was later said to have regained consciousness and communicated with family members.
Gibb was born in Manchester, England, in 1949, along with twin brother Maurice. (Maurice died in 2003 of complications from a twisted intestine; eerily, Robin had surgery for the same medical issue in 2010.) Along with their older brother Barry, the brothers began harmonizing as a trio in Australia, where the family moved in 1958. Although the Bee Gees had some success in Australia – they hosted a weekly variety show there – they didn’t truly arrive until they returned to England and signed with manager Robert Stigwood. Robin’s quivering, vulnerable voice was featured prominently on several of the group’s earliest and most Beatles-eque hits, including “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “I Started a Joke,” “Massachusetts,” and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.”
Although he looked and sounded like the meekest Bee Gee, Robin grew into the family rebel. By 1969, he and Barry were feuding over whose song should be singles, and Robin, then 20, was declared a “ward of the state” by their father when his drinking and partying seemed to take over his life. “It happened so fast that we lost communication between us,” Gibb later recalled. “It was just madness, really.”
But it also Robin who, in 1971, made the first call to Barry to reunite with his brothers. Robin’s solo career had stalled, and Barry and Maurice’s attempts to continue the Bee Gees as a duo had floundered as well. “If we hadn’t been related, we would probably have never gotten back together,” Robin said at the time. Robin’s voice was heard, beautifully, on the chorus of their minor 1972 hit “Run to Me.”
The Bee Gees’ massive second wind arrived with their proto disco hit, “Jive Talkin’,” in 1975; two years later, their contributions to Saturday Night Fever made them bigger stars than ever. Most of the hits from that era featured Barry’s falsetto voice, but the brothers’ vocal blend remained an indelible apart of their sound.
The group entered another fallow period during the early Eighties, although during this time, Robin produced a semi-hit album by Jimmy Ruffin, brother of the Temptations’ David Ruffin. The last Bee Gees album, This Is Where I Came In, was released in 2001. Two years later, Maurice died, and with his passing the Bee Gees ended. (Their other, younger brother Andy died in 1988.)
Robin and Barry reunited periodically – in 2010, they made an appearance on American Idol and inducted ABBA into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and talked about a duo tour, but nothing materialized. Robin, though, kept his hand in music. With his son Robin-John, he wrote an ambitious piece, The Titanic Requiem, a mix of orchestral and vocal pieces telling the story of the doomed liner on the 100th anniversary of its sinking. “It’s a serious subject and it’s not a rock opera,” Gibb said before its debut. “There are no backbeats. This could have been written 300 years ago.”
Featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the work had its world premiere in London on April 10th. But in a sign that Gibb’s health had taken a turn for the worse, he wasn’t able to attend.