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Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison

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Also Known As: Died: December 6, 1988
Born: April 23, 1946 Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Birth Place: Profession:

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ful of tough, rocking numbers like "Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream?)" and "Candy Man," which, while effervescent, still featured an undercurrent of longing and loneliness. Orbison complemented his brooding, lovelorn songs with a sartorial style that favored black clothing â¿¿ not unlike his old Sun labelmate, Johnny Cash â¿¿ and dark sunglasses at all hours. The latter was more by accident than choice: having lost his thick-lensed eyeglasses on a flight, he donned his prescription Wayfarers for a performance, and the look stuck. The sunglasses were also helpful in disguising Orbisonâ¿¿s painful shyness and severe stage fright.In 1963, Orbison replaced guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the U.K. with the Beatles, who at the time, were an unknown quantity in the United States and much of the world. Dismayed at being reduced to the opening act at the height of his popularity, Orbison delivered what audiences would describe as a riveting performance of his material without the physical and verbal histrionics of other rock acts; he would, in fact, remain stock still throughout his entire set and simply mesmerize listeners with his voice. The tour made Orbison lifelong friends with John Lennon and...

ful of tough, rocking numbers like "Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream?)" and "Candy Man," which, while effervescent, still featured an undercurrent of longing and loneliness. Orbison complemented his brooding, lovelorn songs with a sartorial style that favored black clothing â¿¿ not unlike his old Sun labelmate, Johnny Cash â¿¿ and dark sunglasses at all hours. The latter was more by accident than choice: having lost his thick-lensed eyeglasses on a flight, he donned his prescription Wayfarers for a performance, and the look stuck. The sunglasses were also helpful in disguising Orbisonâ¿¿s painful shyness and severe stage fright.

In 1963, Orbison replaced guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the U.K. with the Beatles, who at the time, were an unknown quantity in the United States and much of the world. Dismayed at being reduced to the opening act at the height of his popularity, Orbison delivered what audiences would describe as a riveting performance of his material without the physical and verbal histrionics of other rock acts; he would, in fact, remain stock still throughout his entire set and simply mesmerize listeners with his voice. The tour made Orbison lifelong friends with John Lennon and especially George Harrison, who would be instrumental in his 1980s comeback. Orbison remained on tour throughout the remainder of the year, traveling to Canada, Australia and New Zealand with the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, both of which marveled at his stage presence.

Upon his return, he teamed with Texas musician Bill Dees to pen his signature song, an uptempo rocker called "Oh Pretty Woman" which featured the perfect apotheosis of his singing personas. His vulnerable side was clearly evidenced by the songâ¿¿s wistful lyrics and chorus, while his tougher side was heard in its stuttering riff, as well as his extemporaneous utterances â¿¿ an animal growl he copped from a Bob Hope film, and a throwaway "Mercy!" that covered for a blown note. An acknowledged influence on the Rolling Stonesâ¿¿ "(I Canâ¿¿t Get No) Satisfaction," the song shot to No. 1 on the U.S. charts, where it resided for 14 weeks. It was an even greater hit in the U.K., where it remained in the top chart slot for 18 weeks and made Orbison the only American artist to enjoy a No. 1 single there during the heyday of the British Invasion.

Unfortunately, "Oh Pretty Woman" was the beginning of the end for Orbisonâ¿¿s career for decades, as well as the first of countless personal and professional tragedies that plagued him throughout the 1960s. His marriage to Claudette ended in 1964 after it was revealed that she was carrying on an affair with the contractor who was building their home in Tennessee. They would reconcile the following year, but then Orbisonâ¿¿s recording contract was sold to MGM Records. His first single for the new label, "Ride Away," broke the Top 40, but subsequent efforts barely maintained a hold on the singles charts at all. By 1966, his career was in decline, and his personal life was sent into a tailspin when Claudette was killed in an accident while she and Orbison were riding motorcycles through Bristol, TN and she was hit by a car.

He threw himself into the production of a period musical drama called "The Fastest Guitar Alive" (1967), which starred Orbison as a Confederate spy protecting a gold shipment during the Civil War. However, the film was ludicrous, as evidenced by Orbisonâ¿¿s guitar-cum-rifle, and his performance was lifeless. It failed miserably and canceled his five-picture deal with MGM. Two years later, he received word during a tour of England that the Hendersonville home had burned to the ground, killing two of his children. He would later sell the property to Johnny Cash, who planted an orchard there. The sole bright spot of the period was Barbara Jakobs, a 17-year-old German girl he met in England. The pair would marry in 1969, and produce two sons in 1970 and 1974. Meanwhile, as the 1960s faded into the 1970s, a new generation of artists who had been moved as teenagers by Orbisonâ¿¿s classic hits was covering them as part of their own music careers. The evergreen hit "Love Hurts," which he covered in 1961, was revived by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and later by hard rockers Nazareth, while Sonny James took a cover of "Only the Lonely" to No. 1 on the country charts in 1969. Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles featured his hits in concert, and Linda Ronstadt scored a No. 3 pop hit with her take on "Blue Bayou." By the late 1970s, Orbison had returned to the charts via a collection of his greatest hits, and in 1980, he won a Grammy for "That Lovinâ¿¿ You Feelinâ¿¿ Again," a duet with Emmylou Harris.

Orbison would spend the next decade performing the near impossible: climbing to the top of the charts after nearly 20 years out of the limelight. After winning a second Grammy for a remake of "Crying" with k.d. lang in 1987, he received a massive career boost from one of the most unlikely of sources: David Lynchâ¿¿s perverse, violent thriller "Blue Velvet" (1986), which featured Dennis Hopper as a psychopathic gangster obsessed with, among other things, Orbisonâ¿¿s "In Dreams." One memorably surreal sequence featured Dean Stockwell, as an effeminate drug dealer, executing an overwrought lip-sync performance to the song. Orbison was initially dismayed by the inclusion of his song in the film, but eventually came to appreciate the picture and even allowed Lynch to co-produce a remake of the song for his 1987 collection In Dreams: The Greatest Hits.

That same year, Orbisonâ¿¿s long career was finally validated by his induction into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Bruce Springsteen provided the glowing speech for the former ceremony, and later joined Orbison, as well as a stellar lineup of guest musicians, for "Roy Orbison: A Black and White Night," a live performance filmed at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles that became a top-selling video. He would later conclude the year by teaming with old Beatle buddy George Harrison, as well as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Electric Light Orchestraâ¿¿s Jeff Lynne for Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, a loose, rootsy collection of collaborations and solo tunes by each musician, presented as a faux reunion of a far-flung family act. The album reached No. 3 on the U.S. charts, eventually spending 53 weeks there, and earned a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.

Having revived his career beyond his or anyoneâ¿¿s wildest imagination, Orbison began recording his first album of new material in decades. A star-studded lineup of musicians signed on to pay tribute, including Lynn, Petty and members of the Heartbreakers, and Bono of U2. After completing work on the record, titled Mystery Girl, he traveled to Europe to perform and accept an accolade at an award show. After giving numerous interviews, he flew to Boston, MA, where he performed again, despite appearing quite ill. He rested briefly at his home in Hendersonville before jetting back to the U.K. to shoot two videos for the Traveling Wilburys. On Dec. 6, 1988, he spent the day with his sons, then dined with his mother. That evening, shortly before midnight, Orbison suffered a heart attack, which claimed his life. His passing was eulogized by the international press in reverential tones, and tributes poured in from musical peers the world over. Mystery Girl was released in 1989, and landed a Top 10 hit in America with the stately "You Got It," co-written by Lynne and Petty. He was inducted posthumously into the Songwriters Hall of Fame that year, and received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010. His widow, Barbara Orbison, kept his legacy alive with stellar reissues of his early recordings, as well as DVD and CD presentations of performances from his final, triumphant years.

By Paul Gaitaulnerable ballads like "Crying," which reached No. 2, "In Dreams," and "Blue Bayou," as well as a hand

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