In this March 1, 2008, file photo, musician Robin Gibb...

In this March 1, 2008, file photo, musician Robin Gibb performs at the Dubai International Jazz Festival in Dubai Media City Amphitheater, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A representative said on Sunday, May 20, 2012, that Gibb has died at the age of 62. Newsday's obituary for Robin Gibb
Credit: AP

Robin Gibb, the British pop singer with the quavering falsetto who sold more than 200 million albums with his two brothers in the Bee Gees and became an icon of the "Saturday Night Fever" disco era, died Sunday after a long battle with colon and liver cancer, according to a statement from his spokesman.

Gibb, 62, had contracted pneumonia and fell into a coma in a London hospital last month after missing the premiere of his classical work "Titanic Requiem."

"The family of Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, announce with great sadness that Robin passed away today following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery," read the statement. "The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time."

Although the Bee Gees achieved their greatest fame with "Stayin' Alive," "How Deep Is Your Love" and other disco hits on 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack, the trio's pop-songwriting instincts and distinctive high harmonies led to many No. 1 hits over five decades. Asked in 2010 for his greatest achievement, Gibb told The Guardian: "Having the most successful catalog of songs in the world, alongside Lennon and McCartney."

The Bee Gees "managed to shift with the times and make pop songs that would fit in with whatever era, yet it was very high quality songwriting," says Jim Henke, vice president of exhibitions and chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "They were a very talented group of brothers."

But the Bee Gees allowed themselves to be defined by the disco era in the late '70s, becoming ubiquitous on the radio and in the movies and famously showing off their chest hair, gold chains and tight, white suits. But they never totally identified with that musical movement. "We didn't think when we were writing any of our music that you would dance to it. We always thought we were writing R&B grooves, what they called blue-eyed soul," Gibb told a New Zealand reporter in 2010. "So we never heard the word 'disco,' we just wrote groove songs we could harmonize strongly to, and with great melodies. The fact you could dance to them, we never thought about."

Born Dec. 22, 1949, on the Isle of Man, Robin Gibb was the son of British bandleader Hugh Gibb. Robin and his fraternal twin, Maurice, and older brother, Barry began singing together at age 6. After their family moved to Brisbane, Australia, in 1958, they officially formed the Bee Gees, singing Everly Brothers songs and a few Barry Gibb originals in talent shows. They reeled off 12 singles and two albums over four years. By 1967, they were hosting a weekly regional TV show, and their first Australian hit, "Spicks & Specks" led to a new manager, Robert Stigwood, and ultimately a record deal.

Their first U.S. hit, 1967's "New York Mining Disaster 1941," was a folk-rock song influenced by both The Beatles and the Kingston Trio. While recording "Odessa," they quarreled, and Robin left the group briefly to create his own hits, notably "Saved by the Bell." He returned, but after peaking with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" in 1971, their style fell out of favor. In 1975, the group went into Miami's Criteria Studios with producer Arif Mardin looking for a comeback. They found it with "Jive Talkin' " and its prominent funk bass line, unforgettable synthesizer melody and falsetto harmonies.

"Jive Talkin' " hit No. 1, and the Bee Gees' 1976 album "Main Course" was their first to go platinum, catching disco as it graduated from hipster New York clubs to radio stations everywhere. The "Saturday Night Fever" movie, starring John Travolta in his white leisure suit, used "Stayin' Alive" during the opening credits, and the Bee Gees took off with the soundtrack, becoming huge enough even to annoy themselves. "It wasn't sick of ourselves so much as afraid we were out of control of what was happening to an image that we weren't necessarily endorsing," Gibb told Rolling Stone years later.

The backlash arrived with the brothers' appearance in 1978's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," based on the Beatles album, widely considered one of the biggest film flops of all time.

The '80s were tough for the Bee Gees. Andy Gibb, the Bee Gees' younger brother, best known as a pinup pop singer in the '70s, died of a heart condition after struggling for years with drugs and alcohol in 1988; the tragedy hit the Gibbses hard, particularly Maurice, who drank so much he had to regain his sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. Maurice died of complications from a twisted intestine in 2003.

The Bee Gees made a brief comeback in 1997, with their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the hit album "Still Waters.".

In his later years, Robin Gibb became publicly fascinated with disasters, publishing a harrowing recollection about his near-death experience in the Hither Green rail crash in 1967. He and his son Robin John, or RJ, collaborated on "Titanic Requiem," a classical piece first performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra last month. "Music is music," Gibb wrote in England's Daily Mail.

In 1997, though, he summed up his musical philosophy more universally to Billboard: "In essence, we are singing about feelings we're actually trying to hold on to ourselves," Gibb said of the Bee Gees. "Other people out there don't know how to express that, but it's what they want to hear, too."

In addition to his brother Barry and son R.J., Gibb is survived by his wife, Dwina Murphy; his son Spencer, his daughters, Melissa and Snow; a sister, Lesley; and his mother. An earlier marriage, to Molly Hullis, ended in divorce.

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