Gene Pitney dies in Wales after bravura performance


LONDON (AP) – Gene Pitney, whose keening tenor voice produced a string of hits including “24 Hours from Tulsa,” was found dead in his hotel room in Wales Wednesday following a concert that fans acclaimed as one of his best. He was 65.

Pitney apparently died of natural causes, police said. He was staying in a hotel in Cardiff, Wales where he had played a concert Tuesday night during a tour in Britain.

“Last night was one of the best performances, not vocally, but from the enthusiasm. He just wanted to please – and he did,” said Wendy Horton, who reviewed Tuesday night’s concert for the South Wales Echo newspaper.

Nigel Corten, who reviewed the show for the South Wales Argus, said Pitney appeared to be healthy during the show.

“It came through in his voice because he really let it rip. If you are ill, that would be one of the first things to show it,” he said. “The audience were in raptures.”

During a long career, Pitney had hits as a singer – “Town Without Pity,” “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” and “Half Heaven, Half Heartache.” As a writer, he penned “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee.

In 1962, Pitney had the top two songs on the U.S. chart – his rendition of “Only Love Can Break a Heart” was at No. 2, just behind a song he wrote for The Crystals, “He’s a Rebel.”

He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

“We don’t have a cause of death at the moment but looks like it was a very peaceful passing,” said Pitney’s tour manager, James Kelly.

“He was found fully clothed, on his back, as if he had gone for a lie down. It looks as if there was no pain whatsoever.”

“Last night was generally one of the happiest and most exuberant performances we’ve seen out of him,” Kelly added.

Pitney waited until 1990 for his first British No. 1 – he re-recorded “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” with Marc Almond.

Pitney also had some success as a country singer, pairing with George Jones to record “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” and “Louisiana Man.”

He also took second place twice at the San Remo Song Festival in Italy, and had a regional hit with “Nessuno Mi Puo’ Giudicare.”

“I’m a performer,” Pitney said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1997. “I’ve tried everything there is.”

Born in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 17, 1941, Pitney married his high school sweetheart, Lynne, in 1967, and kept a base in Connecticut all his life. He built a recording studio in his home in Somers, 20 miles northeast of Hartford.

While still in high school, Pitney formed a band called Gene and the Genials. Richard Spurling and Robert Terry, who played in the five-member band, said Wednesday they were saddened at the news of Pitney’s death.

“He was a brilliant guy, and he could have done anything he wanted to in his life,” Spurling told the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn. “It was a fun time.”

Terry said he was always struck by the way Pitney demanded excellence from himself while he was on stage. “He never let up on getting it right and the people who worked with him, knew this,” Terry said.

Pitney said he wrote many of his best songs, including “Hello, Mary Lou,” in his candy-apple red 1935 Ford coupe, parked near a Rockville reservoir.

He is survived by his wife and three sons.

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AP-ES-04-05-06 1653EDT