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|Also Known As:||Robert Peter Williams||Died:|
|Born:||February 13, 1974||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, GB||Profession:|
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Arguably one of the most successful British music artists in history, Robbie Williams began his career with the boy band Take That, which enjoyed unparalleled popularity in the early 1990s, before establishing himself as a solo artist with numerous No. 1 albums and singles and over 57 million albums sold over the course of nearly two decades. Williams left Take That at the height of its popularity in 1995, citing his inability to conform to the rigid demands of its management, though his penchant for self-abusive, hard partying helped to facilitate the separation. His first solo record, Life Through a Lens (1997), immediately established him as a star in his own right, and he would remain at the top of the charts for the majority of the next decade while setting records for album and ticket sales around the globe - save for America, which remained persistently out of his reach. If his failure to crack the stateside market bothered Williams, he kept it well hidden, preferring instead to maintain a near-flawless chart record in his native U.K. while finding even greater fame by reuniting with Take That in 2010. The end of the decade found Williams in essentially the same place as where he stood at the...
Arguably one of the most successful British music artists in history, Robbie Williams began his career with the boy band Take That, which enjoyed unparalleled popularity in the early 1990s, before establishing himself as a solo artist with numerous No. 1 albums and singles and over 57 million albums sold over the course of nearly two decades. Williams left Take That at the height of its popularity in 1995, citing his inability to conform to the rigid demands of its management, though his penchant for self-abusive, hard partying helped to facilitate the separation. His first solo record, Life Through a Lens (1997), immediately established him as a star in his own right, and he would remain at the top of the charts for the majority of the next decade while setting records for album and ticket sales around the globe - save for America, which remained persistently out of his reach. If his failure to crack the stateside market bothered Williams, he kept it well hidden, preferring instead to maintain a near-flawless chart record in his native U.K. while finding even greater fame by reuniting with Take That in 2010. The end of the decade found Williams in essentially the same place as where he stood at the beginning: at the top of the U.K. pop world.
Born Robert Peter Williams on Feb. 13, 1974 in Stoke-on-Trent, the largest city in Staffordshire, England, he was the son of pub owners Peter and Janet Williams. His childhood was marked by considerable turmoil; his parents divorced when he was three years old, and Williams gained a reputation as an unruly student. Solace came from performing in various school plays, but by his teenaged years, Williams had put his education behind him to work as a salesman. A means of escape came via his mother, who had seen a newspaper advertisement seeking singers for a male pop vocal group. He passed the audition and became the youngest member of Take That, the British answer to such American "boy band" acts as New Kids on the Block. A slew of Top 10 hits in 1991 and 1992 preceded their chart domination with 1993's Everything Changes, which generated four No. 1 hits. Take That quickly became the biggest pop act in England, but Williams chafed against their clean-cut image, which was maintained with an iron hand by their manager, Nigel Martin-Smith. He quarreled openly with fellow bandmates and delved heavily into drugs and alcohol. The situation soon came to a head with a near-fatal drug overdose before the 1994 MTV Europe Music Awards.
When Williams was photographed partying with the notoriously hard-living rock group Oasis the following year, he was given an ultimatum to either abide by management rules or leave the band. He chose the latter, and after signing with Chrysalis Records, released his first solo single, a cover of George Michaels' "Freedom," which shot to No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart. Williams' debut album, Life Through a Lens (1997), generated a second Top 5 U.K. single with "Old Before I Die," but the record itself was viewed as a disappointment, reaching only No. 11 on the albums chart. His fortunes changed for the better with the release of his fourth single, "Angels," which reached double platinum sales status and sent Life Through a Lens skyrocketing up the albums chart. Its follow-up, I've Been Expecting You, debuted at No. 1 in 1998 on the strength of its lead singles, "Millennium" and "No Regrets," which marked Williams' collaboration with Pet Shop Boys leader Neil Tennant. It also reached the Top 20 throughout Europe and Latin America as part of his label's plan to expand his audience beyond the borders of the U.K. In 1999, Williams signed with Capitol Records in an attempt to establish a beachhead in the United States, but response to The Ego Has Landed (1999), a compilation album featuring songs from his first two records, rose no higher than No. 63 on the Billboard albums chart. It performed substantially better in other countries, reaching the Top 20 throughout Europe and Latin American while performing extraordinarily well in Australia. Williams subsequently reined in future efforts to conquer the American market in favor of concentrating on the regions where he found the greatest success.
While touring behind The Ego Has Landed in 1999, Williams also found time to record his third solo LP, Sing While You're Winning (2000). The record generated immediate attention for a racy music video for its first single, "Rock DJ," which featured Williams peeling off his clothes and then layers of skin and muscle while crooning the song. It was banned by numerous broadcasters, but shot to No. 1 in the U.K., which in turn helped the record sell over two million copies in its first week of release. Williams scored a second hit with "Kids," a 2000 duet with Australian singer Kylie Minogue that prompted a sold-out joint U.K. tour. He then indulged his lifelong passion for Frank Sinatra by contributing a jazz-styled rendition of the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart song "Have You Met Miss Jones?" for the soundtrack to "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001), which enjoyed a positive critical response. Buoyed by the unexpected success, Williams recorded Swing While You're Winning (2001), an album of big-band standards featuring duets with Nicole Kidman, actors Rupert Everett and Jane Horrocks, and comedian Jon Lovitz. The pair-up with Kidman on "Somethin' Stupid" provided Williams with his fifth chart-topping single in the U.K., while his take on "Beyond the Sea" was later included on the soundtrack for Pixar's "Finding Nemo" (2003).
In 2002, Williams signed a contract with EMI for a reported £80 million, which was the largest music deal in British history. He soon began work on his fifth solo record, Escapeology (2002), which soared to No. 1 in 10 countries, but again failed to generate interest from American listeners, which was in part Williams' goal for the record. He took solace in a subsequent U.K. summer tour that set records for attendance during a three-night stand at Knebworth. A 2003 live album documenting the performances preceded a brief hiatus, during which he released his Greatest Hits (2004) album. It featured a new single, "Radio," that became Williams' sixth U.K. No. 1 hit, which in turn helped to make the compilation album the year's best-selling album across Europe. In 2005, he released Intensive Care (2005), which continued his domination of the European pop market by selling over two million copies in its first six weeks of release. The year was also marked by a proposed reunion with the former members of Take That for a preview screening of a documentary about the group for British TV. Expectations ran high that Williams would appear with his bandmates, but he disappointed many fans by failing to attend the screening. Any possible ill feelings, however, were unquestionably nixed by his 2006 world tour, which set records by selling more than 1.5 million tickets in a single day.
The following year proved to be Williams' most challenging from both professional and personal standpoints. His seventh album, Rudebox (2006), featured a dance/electro sound that did not find favor with longtime fans. His struggle with prescription drug use, which had run largely unchecked for the past decade, finally reached a terminal point in 2007, prompting Williams to check into a rehabilitation facility in Arizona that same year. He subsequently returned to England, where he began work on his next album, Reality Killed the Video Star (2009), produced by Trevor Horn, whose former band, the Buggles, had inspired the record's title with their iconic '80s single "Video Killed the Radio Star." Though critics were divided on the record, it rose to No. 2 on the U.K. albums chart, providing Williams with an official comeback. But the accomplishment was quickly overwhelmed by news that Williams was finally planning to rejoin Take That. An appearance with the group at a 2009 charity concert saw Williams embrace singer Gary Barlow, with whom he had the most intense conflict during his tenure in the band.
The following year, Williams had joined Take That in the studio to record Progress (2010), which became the second fastest selling album in British music history. A live tour, which also broke records for ticket sales, saw the reunited group perform a historic eight-night stand at London's Wembley Stadium. Williams' solo career also continued its extraordinary path during his reunion with Take That. He received the Outstanding Contribution to British Music award from the BRIT awards in 2009, shortly before a second greatest hits album, In and Out of Consciousness: The Greatest Hits 1990-2010 (2010), reached No. 1 on the U.K. charts. The German music company Media Control named him the most successful album artist of the millennium by reaching the Top 10 135 times while spending 38 weeks at the top of the chart. Williams subsequently kept Take That fans' ardor on high by announcing that he was working with Barlow on a new single. A new solo album, Take the Crown, was announced for late 2012.
By Paul Gaita
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