Singer Noel Harrison dies aged 79

Most famous for hit song 'The Windmills of Your Mind', the performer also found fame in acting and as a British Olympic skier

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The Independent Online

The British singer Noel Harrison has died at his home in Devon aged 79.

He was best known for the hit song "The Windmills of Your Mind", recorded for The Thomas Crown Affair soundtrack in 1968 and often covered since.

The son of actor Rex Harrison, he spent much of his life in America as an actor, performer and TV presenter.

Harrison was born in London on 29 January 1934, and moved to Switzerland with his mother after his parents divorced. He took up skiing, representing Britain at two Winter Olympics and becoming the country’s first slalom champion in 1953.

Taking up singing and playing guitar, Harrison spent much of his adult life in the US. He wrote on his website that he had chart records with "A Young Girl and Suzanne", by Leonard Cohen, as well as starring in a TV series.

His most acclaimed performance came with "The Windmills of Your Mind".

“It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time,” he writes. "I went to the studio one afternoon and sang it and pretty much forgot about it.

“I didn’t realise until later what a timeless, beautiful piece Michel LeGrand and the Bergmans had written. It won best song at the 1968 Oscars and turned out to be my most notable piece of work. But all this was happening on the fringes of real life.”

Harrison said he ultimately chose to shun the celebrity status he found bestowed upon him. “I didn’t like being a celebrity. There are lots of perks, pretty women all over you, good tables at fancy restaurants, and all kinds of ego-inflating bullshit but my marriage was crumbling and I felt as if I was exposing my emotional and distressed state in a fishbowl.”

He got out of Los Angeles, moving to a 300-acre farm in Nova Scotia – and despite several attempts to break back into California, would never recover the fame and financial success he had enjoyed early on.

Around 10 years ago Harrison returned to the UK, settling in south Devon. Married three times, he is survived by children and grandchildren from his first two marriages.