A Rockapaedia Obituary
Kathy Kirby died aged seventy-two of suspected heart attack on 19th May 2011 In London, U.K.. She was survived by her sister Pat and her brother Douglas.
Kathy Kirby was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was in poor physical and mental health for much of her life. After her retirement she lived in a series of apartments and hotels in west London, settling in an apartment in Emperor's Gate, South Kensington, then surviving on state benefits plus some royalties, and living in seclusion. Shortly before her death Kathy moved to Brinsworth House in Twickenham at the insistence of her niece, Lady Sarah Thatcher.
Kathy Kirby met bandleader Bert Ambrose in her teens and, despite him being forty-two years older and having an estranged wife at the time, she entered a relationship with him that lasted until his death in 1971.
Kathy was married briefly to writer and former London policeman Frederick Pye in the 1970s. Following her bankruptcy in 1975 and a court case following an arrest over an unpaid hotel bill, she was referred to St Luke's psychiatric hospital in London in 1979. Following her discharge, she lived with a female fan, Laraine McKay, and said that they intended to marry. McKay was later imprisoned for fraud and forgery.
Kathy Kirby was born Kathleen O'Rourke in Ilford, London, U.K. the eldest of three children of Irish parents. Her mother Eileen brought them up alone after their father left early in their childhood. Kathy grew up on Tomswood Hill, Barkingside, in Ilford, and attended the Ursuline Convent School in Ilford where she sang in the choir.
Kathy Kirby's vocal talent became apparent early in life, and she took singing lessons with a view to becoming an opera singer. She became a professional singer after meeting bandleader Bert Ambrose at the Ilford Palais in 1956. She remained with Ambrose's band for three years and he remained her manager, mentor and lover until his death on stage in Leeds in 1971.
During the summer of 1957 Kathy Kirby performed at the Florida Park Restaurant in Madrid, and after returning to the UK not only performed with Ambrose's orchestra, but also with Nat Allen and his band. In 1959 Kathy Kirby joined vocalists Tony Mansell and Rikki Henderson in the Denny Boyce Band, and appeared regularly at the Lyceum Ballroom in London. In the summer of 1959 she made her solo cabaret debut at the Astor Club, and was subsequently signed to Pye Records in 1960 where she released two singles, "Love Can Be" and "Now You're Crying", which sold few copies but helped her get a six-month contract at Mayfair's Blue Angel nightclub.
In 1962 Kathy signed a contract with Decca Records, for whom her first single was " Big Man" in October 1962. The single sold well over a long period of time, but failed to reach the top of the British charts. It was however a hit in Vancouver's CFUN in January 1963. In the summer of 1963, after becoming a regular on the musical TV program Stars and Garters, she had her first hit, "Dance On!", which peaked at number eleven in the UK chart and number one in Australia. Its follow-up was an upbeat reworking of the Doris Day classic "Secret Love" which peaked at number four on the British chart and stayed there for about five months. In the same year she won Top British Female Singer in the New Musical Express poll. Her album 16 Hits From Stars & Garters was released at the end of 1963, and cracked the top 20. The single "Let Me Go, Lover!", another upbeat reworking, this time of the classic by Joan Weber, reached number ten in early 1964. Kathy Kirby disliked the song, stating that she honestly was really surprised because she never had much hope for that record, and when she recorded it she thought it might never get anywhere at all.
"Let Me Go, Lover!" was followed by "You're The One", which peaked at number seventeen in May 1964. This success was followed by a record-breaking summer season show at the ABC Theatre in Blackpool.
Kathy Kirby became one of the biggest stars of the early to mid-1960s, appearing in the Royal Command Variety Performance and two television series for BBC TV. She represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 and came second with the song "I Belong" which also became a hit. Author and historian John Kennedy O'Connor describes Kathy Kirby's "I Belong" as being far more representative of current musical tastes than other songs from the contest, but she was beaten by France Gall from Luxembourg, singing an even more contemporary song written by Serge Gainsbourg. An EP was issued featuring the six songs selected for the Eurovision Contest, featuring a different version of "I Belong", which peaked at number ten in 1965. An Italian version of I Belong was recorded by her under the title Tu Sei Con Me. She also sang the theme tune of the BBC television series Adam Adamant Lives!.
In September 1965 her single "The Way of Love" charted at number eighty-eight on the US Billboard Top 100.
After the chart success of "I Belong", Kathy Kirby recorded more than a dozen singles between 1965 and 1967, but they all failed to chart. She continued to make television appearances, and her 1974 appearance on The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club TV variety show was for some time available to watch on YouTube but, as of October 2014, has been taken down due to a copyright claim.
During the 1970s Kathy Kirby's singing career was eclipsed by a turbulent personal life, but she made occasional television appearances and performed a few live concerts on the "nostalgia circuit". On 31st December 1976, she performed her hit song "Secret Love" on BBC1's A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II's then-impending Silver Jubilee.
In December 1983 she gave one last concert in Blackpool, then retired from show business altogether.
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