Bee Gee Maurice Gibb dies at age 53

Appreciation Bee Gee Maurice Gibb dies at age 53


January 13, 2003|By Howard Cohen | Howard Cohen,KNIGHT RIDDER /TRIBUNE

MIAMI -- Maurice Gibb, whose mastery of popular music for more than four decades and whose contribution to contemporary standards such as "Stayin' Alive," "How Deep Is Your Love" and "Massachusetts" proved indelible, died yesterday at 1 a.m.

The 53-year-old musician and member of the Bee Gees -- with twin Robin Gibb and brother Barry, 55 -- died at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

"To our extended family, friends and fans, it is with great sadness and sorrow that we regretfully announce the passing of Maurice Gibb," Gibb's family said in a statement. "His love and enthusiasm and energy for life remain an inspiration to all of us. We will all deeply miss him."

Gibb, who sang and played keyboards and bass for the Bee Gees and who opened a North Miami Beach paint ball shop -- Commander Mo's -- in June, had emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage Thursday. The hospital reported that before his surgery he suffered cardiac arrest.

"There were no clues that this was going on; it's devastating," Bee Gees recording engineer John Merchant said Sunday morning from the brothers' Miami Beach recording studio, Middle Ear.

The Bee Gees' accomplishments are enviable: With more than 500 cover versions of their songs in existence -- more than any pop group save The Beatles -- artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Janis Joplin and from Barbra Streisand to Destiny's Child have recorded one or more of the Bee Gees' songs. The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and have won seven Grammy awards.

But industry accolades don't begin to tell the story of Maurice Gibb.

Gibb was, first and foremost, a member of his adopted South Florida community, having lived here a quarter-century. The clearest proof came Sunday morning when Denis Tetenes and his staff at Jimmy's East Side Diner on Biscayne Boulevard erected a makeshift memorial.

Gibb came to the diner almost every Sunday morning to eat breakfast with friends.

Tetenes cordoned off the back table that Gibb used, placing flowers, an autographed Bee Gees picture, a lit candle and a coffee cup. The section will remain as such for three days.

"He deserves more than that, but sometimes you don't know what to do," Tetenes said sadly, patting Gibb's seat. "He was part of the restaurant. Part of the staff. Part of my heart. We feel very bad. We did a small memorial, but it's nowhere near enough."

Perhaps because Barry and Robin Gibb sang lead on most of the hits, Maurice's position in the group could be unfairly undervalued.

"He was extremely talented," recording engineer Dennis Hetzendorfer said from his Cooper City home Sunday. "People don't realize, of the three, he had the second harmony, which is the hardest note to find. Whenever I'd listen in the studio, I'd ask him how he'd find that note, and he would just smile. `I'm the blender,' he'd say."

Hetzendorfer began working with the Gibbs in 1978, first at Criteria in North Miami Beach where the team cut the No. 1 Spirits Having Flown album, and later at Maurice Gibb's home studio on solo projects.

"He was a big kid at heart, and his importance to the group is unexplainable," Hetzendorfer said. "... Nothing sounds like the three of them together. It's a sound that can't be taught and you can't duplicate. This was three brothers singing together their whole life."

Though Gibb's bass-playing gave "Stayin' Alive" its propulsive and unforgettable lift -- try to imagine that immortal opening shot of John Travolta walking down the street at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever without that beat -- Gibb made an impact when he sang lead, too, as on "Man in the Middle" from 2001's This Is Where I Came In, the Bee Gees' last CD.

"It's really about me in the middle of everything that I've done in my life. I just made it more romantic," Gibb said in an interview with the Miami Herald in April 2001 while sitting at the diner. "Someone once called me the engine. Each one of us fell into a role as we grew up. ... I always thought we were triplets, but something happened to Barry -- he sort of sprang up real quick! So we've gone through life doing everything together."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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