Ska and reggae legend Desmond Dekker died Wednesday from a heart attack, Reuters reports. The 64-year-old Jamaican icon, best known for his hits "The Israelites" and "007 (Shanty Town)," collapsed inside his home in Surrey, England, his longtime manager Delroy Williams told the wire service. Dekker was divorced and is survived by a son and daughter.
Dekker, a welder turned singer/songwriter who was orphaned in his teens, was born Desmond Adolphus Dacres in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 16, 1941. The singer helped forge a path for reggae artists, including Bob Marley, to gain international attention during the genre's fledgling years.
"Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not," Williams said. "When he released 'Israelites,' nobody had heard of Bob Marley — he paved the way for all of them.
Before Marley's ascent, Dekker was the best-known Jamaican musician outside of his native land, and one of the most popular within it. He shaped both reggae and ska during both styles' infancies. "The Israelites" helped raise Dekker's international profile in 1969, reaching the top of the British singles chart and cracking the top 10 in the U.S. The song became the first international hit produced by Jamaica's vibrant music scene, and it introduced the world to ska, reggae's precursor.
Several of Dekker's most popular tunes — "Rude Boy Train," "Rudie Got Soul" and "007 (Shanty Town)" — reflected the violent "rude boy" culture ("rude" referring to someone who was cool), establishing him as a rude boy icon. Dekker also enjoyed success with the 1970 hit "You Can Get It If You Really Want," written by Jimmy Cliff.
Dekker made Britain his home in the late 1970s, and spent much of the decade touring. His popularity waned during the 1980s, but that didn't keep the singer — who declared bankruptcy in 1984 — from recording. In 1990, "The Israelites" was reissued, and later used in various television commercials, which helped reinvigorate his career.
Dekker was still actively touring when he died, Delroy Williams said. He gave his final performance at Leeds University in England on May 11 and was booked to perform at the Respect Festival in Prague on June 2. Dekker also had plans to tour Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Belgium and London this summer.
"He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it — and then that was it." Williams said. "He died peacefully, but it still hurts. ... I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye properly."