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Steve Harley death: Cockney Rebel musician dies aged 73

Steve Harley death: Cockney Rebel musician dies aged 73

Musician Steve Harley has died of cancer, aged 73.

The singer, who performed as part of Cockney Rebel, was touring up until January but was forced to cancel dates last month after being diagnosed with cancer.

He “passed away peacefully” at his Suffolk home on Sunday morning with his family by his side, according to a statement by his wife Dorothy, and children, Kerr and Greta.

“We know he will be desperately missed by people all over the world,” she wrote.

“Whoever you know him as, his heart exuded only core elements. Passion, kindness, generosity. And much more, in abundance.”

His most well-known song was “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)”, which got to No 1 in February 1975. The song was the first single to be released under the name “Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel”, as opposed to simply “Cockney Rebel”.

In July 1974, the original Cockney Rebel disbanded, and Harley then assembled a new line-up later in the year. “Make Me Smile” described Harley’s feelings on the band’s split.

In a social media post on 13 February, the musician’s team wrote that Harley had hoped he would be better next year: “Due to on-going treatment for cancer, Steve cannot commit to any concerts in 2024.

“Steve is hoping next year will be altogether different. He appreciates all your kind words and good wishes. Team SH.”

In a post on his official website on Christmas Eve, Harley wished his fans a “happy, healthy New Year” as he revealed his 2023 had been a tale of two halves.

He added: “I’m fighting a nasty cancer. My oncologist is pleased with the treatment’s effects so far. It’s tiresome, and tiring. But the fight is on.

“And thankfully the cursed intruder is not affecting the voice. I sing and play most evenings.”

Cockney Rebel gained success in the mid-1970s for their glam rock music embracing their London roots. Before their only chart-topper, they enjoyed Top 10 hits with “Judy Teen” and “Mr Soft” in 1974.

The original band was made up of Harley, Jean-Paul Crocker, drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys and guitarist Nick Jones.

Jeffreys and his wife Rachael were killed on the way to their honeymoon in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing while on board Pan Am Flight 103.

The musician rose to fame in the Seventies for his glam rock style of music (Shutterstock)
The musician rose to fame in the Seventies for his glam rock style of music (Shutterstock)

Harley sang the title track on the original Phantom of the Opera in 1986, and successfully auditioned to play the Phantom in the classic musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The musician enjoyed a brief stint as a solo artist before the band regrouped in April 1990 after the success of Harley’s 1989 tour.

From 1999 to 2008, Harley presented the BBC 2 radio show Sounds of the 70s, which is currently hosted by Tony Blackburn.

Fans shared their condolences on social media, calling him a “brilliant musician and great story teller” and a “fab live performer”.

‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’ is one of the most-played songs in British broadcasting (Getty)
‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’ is one of the most-played songs in British broadcasting (Getty)

Another added: “RIP to the great Steve Harley who was responsible for one of the best pop songs ever recorded”.

Singer-songwriter Mike Batt, who worked with Steve Harley on many songs, has described the musician as a “dear pal” and “lovely guy” and Scottish musician Midge Ure has hailed Steve Harley as a “true ‘working musician’”.

“Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)” was confirmed as one of the most-played songs in British broadcasting by The Performing Rights Society, and over 120 versions of the track have been recorded by other artists.

In one of his final social media posts, Harley wrote a heartfelt tribute to DJ Steve Wright.

Harley on a 2020 episode of ‘This Morning’ (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)
Harley on a 2020 episode of ‘This Morning’ (Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

“The news of Steve Wright’s death has shattered me. We knew each other since the early Sixties,” he wrote.

“Steve managed to be both the guy down the street and a pro working on a higher plane at one and the same time. He made it all seem so easy. My loving best wishes and deepest sympathy go to his family.”

The Seventies icon was known for his larger-than-life personality and said in a 2005 interview with The Independent, “I never meant to be arrogant; just honest.”

He shared his previous experiences with ill-health, revealing that he had suffered from polio when he was just two years old and that his lengthy stays in hospital had inspired his love for writing.

He spent three and a half years in hospital between the ages of three and 16, including two spells of almost a year.

“I am solitary as a result,” he said of the experience.

Having shied from discussing his illness during his heyday, he belatedly addressed it in his song “The Last Feast”.

“It’s a primal scream. I remember pain beyond description after the surgery and I knew I was at the very brink of human tolerance and all the morphine in the world would not ease it. For a long time, my life was in a bedside cabinet and it was a notebook and pen, all words, words, words.”

Harley lived in north Essex with his wife, Dorothy, whom he married in February 1981. They have two children, Kerr and Greta.