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Singer Gene Pitney found dead during U.K. tour

Police say it’s not suspicious; biggest hit was 1963's ’24 Hours from Tulsa’
/ Source: Reuters

American singer Gene Pitney, who shot to fame in the 1960s with hits including “24 Hours from Tulsa,” has died while on tour in Britain, his agent said on Wednesday.

Jene Levy said Pitney, 66, was found dead on Wednesday morning in the Welsh capital Cardiff, where he had given a concert the previous night that won him a standing ovation.

There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

South Wales police said they had been called to a hotel on Wednesday morning and that the death was not being treated as suspicious.

Pitney, who had a string of hit records as well as writing songs recorded by other stars, toured regularly throughout his long career and was in the middle of a 23-show tour of Britain, where he had a strong following.

Pitney’s agent said his wife Lynne had been told of his death. Pitney is also survived by three sons: David, Todd and Chris.

Tour manager James Kelly was with Pitney on Tuesday night and said he was stunned by the singer’s death.

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“I’ve never seen him so well, he said. “He was absolutely buzzing and full of life.”

He said Pitney had been found fully clothed on his hotel bed as if he had just lain down for a rest after the show.

Born on Feb. 17, 1940 in Hartford, Connecticut, Pitney initially had no real ambition to be a singer. According to his official Web site, as a boy he was more at home collecting stamps and coins, trapping mink and muskrat and experimenting with electronics.

But music gradually began to take over his life and he formed a band while a student at Rockville High School.

After high school, Pitney teamed up with singer Ginny Arnell and recorded for Decca as Jamie & June.

His initial successes came when other musicians recorded his songs and he concentrated on writing rather than performing.

Roy Orbison released “Today’s Teardrops” as the B-side of his hit single “Blue Angel” in 1960, while “Rubber Ball” became a million-seller hit for American artist Bobby Vee and Britain’s Marty Wilde.

Pitney then began to record his own songs, working with producer Phil Spector and scoring his first American top 20 hit with the title song from the movie “Town Without Pity.”

Another movie theme, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance” gave him another hit but it was the 1963 release of “24 Hours from Tulsa” that brought him worldwide fame.

Pitney became friendly with the Rolling Stones and his endorsement of the British rock group in the United States is credited with helping them break through there.

Stones’ stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday,” which was a hit for Pitney on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pitney had 16 top 40 songs in the United States from 1961 to 1968, and 40 hit songs in Britain up to 1974.

He enjoyed a revival in Britain in 1990 when his duet with Marc Almond “Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart” reached number one.