Reggae star Desmond Dekker dies

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The Independent Online

Reggae legend Desmond Dekker has died suddenly from a heart attack - only a week before his next concert, his manager said today.

The 64-year-old Jamaican, best known for his 1969 smash hit Israelites, collapsed at his home in Surrey yesterday morning.

His devastated manager and best friend, Delroy Williams, said he had seen him the night before and he seemed fine.

"It is such a shock, I don't think I will ever get over this," he said.

"Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not. When he released Israelites nobody had heard of Bob Marley - he paved the way for all of them."

Dekker, who was divorced with a son and a daughter, played his last gig at Leeds University on May 11.

He was due to perform at the Respect Festival in Prague on June 2, before heading on to Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Belgium and London.

Mr Williams said: "He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it - and then that was it.

"He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his best friend, I don't think anyone knew how close we were - we go back so far."

Mr Williams said he had seen the singer on Wednesday night: "He just left my house in the evening and said 'See you in the morning'.

"I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye properly."

He described Dekker as a private person who would go back to Jamaica from time to time but only to see his family rather than perform.

"He wasn't out there like other stars partying all the time, he just did his job. He lived for his music and his children."

Dekker was still highly popular for his live performances and only yesterday it was announced that he would take part in the Godiva Festival in Coventry.

The singer was due to appear on July 14 and signing him up was hailed as a "coup".

Dekker was born on July 16, 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, and started working life as a welder before singing full-time.

He found fame with his band Desmond Dekker And The Aces with their international hit Israelites, which topped the UK charts and made the top 10 in the US.

Other successes included It Mek and 007 (Shanty Town).

He moved to the UK in the '70s and recorded the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.

But Dekker's success started to wane by the end of the '70s and early '80s and he was declared bankrupt in 1984.

A new version of Israelites was released in 1990 and appeared in several TV ads, boosting his popularity once again.