Soulful rock singer Robert Palmer died in a Paris hotel room early Friday morning of a heart attack, according to his manager. He was 54.
Palmer, known for the highly stylized videos for such ’80s hits as “Simply Irresistible” and “Addicted to Love,” was in Paris with his companion, Mary Ambrose, vacationing for a few
days after taping a career retrospective program for England’s Yorkshire Television. He was scheduled to return to Switzerland this weekend, where he had lived for the past 16 years. “He was in perfect health as far as we know,” said
manager Mick Cater. “He had a medical annual a couple weeks ago and the doctor said he was in great shape.” Cater said Palmer had gone out to dinner and attended the theater Thursday night and was found dead in his hotel room.
The singer was born Robert Alan Palmer in Batley, England, on January 19, 1949, and raised on the island of Malta until the age of 19. He was a member of several English bands when he was in his early 20s, among them the Alan Bown Set and Dada, a 12-member soul band whose sound would help shape Palmer’s style as a solo artist. Palmer quit the group in 1973 to release his solo debut, 1974’s Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, which featured members of the American rock band Little Feat and the funk group the Meters.
He experimented with a reggae sound on 1975’s Pressure Drop but returned to a more rock-oriented groove on 1979’s Secrets, which featured his first hit single, “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor).” He latched onto the new wave sound in 1980 on Clues with some help from singer Gary Numan, best known for his hit “Cars,” and the Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz. The album spawned another hit, “Looking for Clues,” which was accompanied by a low-budget video in which Palmer frolicked with oversized telephones and keyboards. The clip was an early staple on MTV.
Palmer formed the band Power Station with Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Andy Taylor and ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson in 1985. The band scored two top-10 hits
with the new wave funk song “Some Like It Hot” and a dance-influenced cover of T. Rex’s classic rocker “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” Palmer quit the group on the eve of a major tour and recorded his 1985 solo album, Riptide, a disc
that would bring him his biggest success.
One of the first old-school artists to truly make it big via glossy videos, Palmer dressed up in a suit and surrounded himself with an army of slick-haired, ruby-lipped female backup performers for the clips to the driving rock and soul songs “Addicted to Love” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.”
He stuck with the formula for 1988’s Heavy Nova, which featured one of his biggest hits, the urgent rocker “Simply Irresistible,” whose clip again featured his harem of similarly dressed video vixens.
Don’t Explain (1990) failed to connect with audiences, and Palmer’s output began to slow through the ’90s. He released a 1992 album of standards, Ridin’ High, followed by the eclectic Honey in 1994, which featured the guitar histrionics of Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt, some world music influences and a cover of
Devo’s “Girl U Want.”
After an ill-conceived reunion with Power Station in 1996, he released the pop album Rhythm & Blues in 1999. A concert album recorded in 2000 at the venerable Apollo Theater in New York, Live at the Apollo, was released in 2003, followed by an album of blues covers, Drive, released in May.
“Robert Palmer had a profound influence on us as musicians,” John Taylor said in a statement. “He was a sophisticated music scientist who loved to experiment. In many subtle ways, he helped to change and shape popular music. Very few artists can claim to have created a body of work as satisfying as his. He had a great sense of fun and he knew how to rock. He was a good friend to all of Duran Duran.”
Palmer was not working on a new album at the time of his death, according to Cater. “My Kind of People,” the hour-long show that was to focus on his musical influences and was to be aired in his native Yorkshire only, has not yet been scheduled for air.