Stephen Gately, a member of the popular Irish boy band [artist id="501093"]Boyzone[/artist], died on Saturday while vacationing on the Spanish island of Majorca. The group announced on its official Web site that Gately, 33, "tragically died" while visiting the island but did not offer any details on the cause of death.
Gately was with his partner, Andrew Cowles, at the time — they were married in a civil union in 2006 — and the singer's former bandmembers said on Saturday that they were traveling to Majorca to pay their respects.
"We are completely devastated by the loss of our friend and brother, Stephen," wrote Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Mikey Graham and Shane Lynch on the band's official Web site. "We have shared such wonderful times together over the years and were all looking forward to sharing many more. Stephen was a beautiful person in both body and spirit. He lit up our lives and those of the many friends he had all over the world. Our love and sympathy go out to Andrew and Stephen's family. We love you and will miss you forever."
Boyzone were one of the most popular UK boy bands of the 1990s, nearly equaling Take That in a friendly rivalry that had shades of the 'NSYNC/ Backstreet Boys battle in the U.S. The group formed in 1993 through a newspaper ad looking for an Irish answer to Take That, initially gaining popularity with covers of songs by the Four Seasons, the Osmonds and the Bee Gees. They released a string of hit albums in the mid-'90s before splitting in 2000.
Along with in-demand producer/ songwriter Keating, Gately was one of the lead singers of the group, which scored six #1 singles in the UK in their prime with the songs "Words," "A Different Beat," "All That I Need," "No Matter What," "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" and "You Needed Me." Gately surprised the group's fans in 1999 by coming out as a gay man, becoming an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
The Dublin-born Gately released a solo album, New Beginning, in 2000 and starred in musicals and television programs following the group's dissolution. Boyzone reunited in 2007 for some appearances in England and were slated to release a new album next year. Just four days before his death, Gately tweeted, "Still busy, lots going on. Focussing on finishing my book next so may be quiet here." The singer was reportedly working on a children's fantasy novel called "The Tree of Seasons."
Though a cause of death has not yet been announced, a spokesperson for Gately's family called it a "tragic accident" and told BBC News that the singer died due to natural causes, that drugs and suicide were not factors, and that it's not believed he was murdered or died as a result of a fight. They have also denied reports that Gately died following an eight-hour drinking binge on the island. A postmortem is scheduled for Tuesday in Spain.
Pop icon Elton John, who was a friend and who introduced Gately to Cowles, told the BBC, "Stephen was the kindest, gentlest soul. We send our love and condolences to his partner, Andy, and to all his friends everywhere."
Boyzone's manager, Louis Walsh, was to appear alongside "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell on Cowell's UK talent show, "X Factor," on Saturday night, but pulled out due to Gately's death. Cowell paid tribute to the singer on the program, calling news of his death "really, really tragic" and sending his condolences to Gately's family.