Robin, 62, and his brothers Barry and Maurice began their musical career in 1963 and scored a number of hits with sentimental ballads such as “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “I Started a Joke” and their first top 20 single, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” But it was their work in the late 1970s that would forever cement their memory in music history.
After a string of successful albums and singles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the brotherly trio hit the hard time early in the decade, including a brief period where Robin left the band to go solo because he felt Barry was being pushed to the forefront at his expense.
It wasn’t until they revamped their sound on 1975’s Main Course that they hit upon a formula that would make them international superstars and help sell more than 200 million albums over the course of their career. That record turned away from earnest folk and pop to a sound laced with a more soulful, dance-oriented groove, epitomized by the #1 hit “Jive Talkin’.”
They followed up with the soundtrack to the hit movie “Saturday Night Fever,” which held the record for the best-selling album of all time until the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. With such smashes as “Night Fever,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “You Should Be Dancing,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “More Than a Woman,” the soundtrack won the Grammy for Album of the Year and sold more than 15 million copies in the United States alone.
Though they weren’t even tapped to work on the soundtrack until after the movie had already wrapped, producer Robert Stigwood asked them to try and whip up a few tunes for the film that would soon define the disco era. They dashed most of the additional songs off in just over one weekend, and the rest, as they say, is history. In the years since, the album, whose cover prominently features the trio in their signature white disco suits just above a dancing John Travolta, has sold more than 40 million copies and stands as one of the top five best-selling albums of all time.
Robin often sung the lead on the early songs, even though it was Barry who was the ostensible leader of the group later in their career. The siblings’ allegedly testy dynamic was turned into a bizarre recurring skit on “Saturday Night Live” from 2003 to 2011 by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake called “The Barry Gibb Talk Show.” Though Fallon once told Howard Stern that he really didn’t know how the idea came to him to play Barry as an out-of-control rage-aholic hosting a public affairs show about the day’s news, the comedic combination of the monosyllabic Timberlake as Robin and the pair singing the trio’s falsetto harmonies made for some of the show’s funniest moments.
Born in 1949 on the Isle of Man off the British Coast, Robin and his brothers grew up in Manchester, England, but moved to Australia as children. They got their start there performing on television shows as the B.G.’s. It was after the family returned to England in the 1960s that the trio began to score international attention with their melodic three-part harmonies and emotional songwriting.
Robin released a trio of solo albums in the 1980s, but neither he nor the group would ever reach the “Fever” heights again. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Earlier this year, Robin released a classical piece called The Titanic Requiem, recorded with his son, Robin-John, but was too ill to attend an April 10 performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Robin’s death is the latest heartache for the family, which has suffered a string of misfortunes, including the 1988 death of youngest brother Andy, 30, and the 2003 passing of Robin’s twin, Maurice, 53.
More than 30 years after their global breakthrough, the music created by Robin and his brothers remains a cultural touchstone for each successive generation. Everyone from Eric Clapton to Destiny’s Child, the Cure’s Robert Smith, the Flaming Lips, Elton John, Al Green, Cher, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Celine Dion have recorded their songs over the years.
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