It doesn’t seem like this December will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Roy Orbison. Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas on April 23, 1936 and died in Madison, Tennessee on December 6, 1988 at the age of 52.
Orbison has left behind a rich musical legacy with his signature songs like Crying, Only the Lonely and Oh, Pretty Woman. He also was a songwriter writing songs like Claudette, which was recorded by the Everly Brothers.
1960 would bring his first Top 10 hit Only the Lonely which reached No.2 on the Billboard charts. Orbison would release his first No.1 hit in 1960, when he recorded Running Scared and then would also see Crying reach No.2 on the charts that same year.
His main hit in 1963 was Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream) which topped out at No.4 on the Billboard charts. Blue Bayou, one of his better known songs only reached No.29 in the United States, but went to No.1 in Australia. Mean Woman Blues peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard charts that same year. In fact he only had two No.1 songs on pop charts in the United States, but had nine No. 1 hits in Australia.
Oh, Pretty Woman was his last No.1 hit in 1964, but he released It’s Over, which topped out at No.9 on pop charts, but claimed the No.1 spot on adult contemporary charts in 1964.
Orbison would not record another No.1 hit in the United States in the last 28 years of his singing career.
Opened For Beatles In United Kingdom
Duane Eddy was scheduled to appear in United Kingdom in 1963, but he was replaced by Roy Orbison. He opened for the Beatles and he performed without moving and yet the fans liked him so much that they asked for encores fourteen times. By this time the Beatles finally had to physically hold him back, so they could go on stage. The crowd was chanting “We want Roy” which was a surprise, since the fans came to see the Beatles that night.
Orbison didn’t even know who the Beatles were and asked what’s a beetle and John Lennon said “I am”. The Beatles and Orbison became good friends later as they admired Orbison for commanding a crowd, even though he hardly even moved.
Wife Has Affair With Contractor
Orbison’s wife Claudette had an affair with the contractor who built their Hendersonville, Tennessee home. Claudette did join him that fall on a tour to England. She gave Orbison the idea for his hit song Oh, Pretty Woman, when she told him that she was leaving for home. He asked her if she needed money and she said ” Pretty woman never needs money” and it was only 40 minutes later before the song Oh, Pretty Woman was finished.
The first of a string of tragedies began for Orbison during a 1965 tour in UK. He broke his foot in front of thousands of screaming fans and had to perform in a cast. He reconciled with his wife Claudette after the accident, but she would die the next year when she was hit by a semi-trailer while she and Orbison were riding home on separate motorcycles on June 6, 1966.
Tragedy struck Orbison again on September 16, 1968, when he learned his Hendersonville, Tennessee home had burned down and his two eldest sons had perished in the fire. Orbison had now lost his wife and two sons in 27 months time. He would marry Barbara Jakobs of Germany on March 25, 1969.
Orbison would have to have a triple heart bypass on January 18, 1978.
Career Revived in 1987
Roy Orbison started to revive his music career in 1987, after being pushed into the background by the British invasion. He joined the Traveling Wilburys, which played a major part in reviving his career. His stage name was Lefty Wilbury in honor of the late country music star Lefty Frizzell.
Death and Aftermath
Orbison would travel to Europe in November of 1988 and some observers noticed that he looked ill, but he continued to perform. He then returned to Hendersonville to rest, before embarking on another trip to London this time, to film two videos for the Traveling Wilburys.
However, the trip would never take place, because he would fly model airplanes with his son on December 6, 1988 and then visited his mother for dinner and died after dinner that night. Ironically his wife Barbara would die on the same date 23 years later on December 6, 2011 from pancreatic cancer.
Roy Orbison left a rich musical legacy behind for his fans. Only Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison have had two Top 5 albums at the same time. He will be forever remembered for singing while not moving, wearing his sunglasses and being dressed in black. His music is still being sung today as evidenced by Kree Harrison, an American Idol contestant sang Crying last Wednesday night, which reminded me of Orbison singing the original version which can be heard below.