From Tulsa to Cardiff, the enduring legend of the late Gene Pitney

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The Independent Culture

He was always more celebrated in Britain than in his home country, so it was probably appropriate that he died in the middle of yet another sell-out tour of this country, only hours after performing to a packed hall of adoring fans.

Gene Pitney, the American singer whose reputation rested on a handful of some of the most enduring songs in popular music performed in his unique melodramatic style, was found dead in his hotel room in Cardiff yesterday morning. He was 65.

James Kelly, his tour manager said: "We don't have a cause of death at the moment but it looks like it was a very peaceful passing. 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, which is nice."

Pitney, known in his youthful guitar-playing days as the Rockville Rocket, from the Connecticut suburb where he lived, will be remembered for two big ballads, both released in the Sixties, which used his distinctive, high-pitched voice to its best effect, "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa" and "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart".

In 1989, 22 years after its first release, "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" became his only number one hit in the UK and he found a whole new generation of fans when he re-recorded the song with Marc Almond, the former singer with Soft Cell. Almond said yesterday: "I am deeply saddened and shocked by the death of Gene Pitney ... It was an honour to have worked with him. He was a great, unique singer of great, unique songs."

What is less well known about Pitney was that after his original attempts at stage success faltered, he became a songwriter for others and created several big hits which became staples of the pop repertoire.

Working in the fabled Brill Building, alongside such figures as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, he wrote "He's a Rebel" for The Crystals, his first number one hit and one of several Phil Spector-produced singles; "Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee and "Hello Mary Lou", which became a huge hit for Ricky Nelson in 1961.

In the same year, he had a big hit under his own name with, ["I Wanna] Love My Life Away", and was then approached by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa", as well as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance", also a big hit. The British songwriting duo of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway penned "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" for him.

While the pop era that he was part of struggled to compete with the British invasion of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Pitney himself embraced the new wave, endorsing the Stones and playing piano on their first album, helping to break them in America. The Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, became his publicist and Pitney recorded the Jagger-Richards composition, "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday", which was a big hit in the United States. He had an affair with Marianne Faithfull, once Mick Jagger's girlfriend.

He had maintained a loyal army of fans in the United Kingdom, who helped sustain a regular touring schedule based on his big hits. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Pitney, a fitness enthusiast, who always insisted that his tour hotels had gyms and pools, was found dead in his room on the seventh floor of the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff. He leaves a wife and three sons. His last performance, at St David's Hall in Cardiff, part of a 23-date tour, was sold out. He had nine dates left and was due to appear at Bristol's Colston Hall last night.

Fans said his performance had been "brilliant" with no sign of illness. He had ended the show with "Town Without Pity", another one of his early hits. Mr Kelly added: "Last night was generally one of the happiest and most exuberant performances we've seen out of him. He was absolutely on top of his game and was really happy with the show."

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