LONDON – Gene Pitney, whose keening tenor voice produced a string of hits including “Town Without Pity,” was found dead in his hotel room in Wales on Wednesday after a concert that fans acclaimed as one of his best. He was 65.
Pitney apparently died of natural causes, police said. He was staying in a hotel in Cardiff, where he had played a concert Tuesday night during a tour in Britain.
Nigel Corten, who reviewed the show for the South Wales Argus, said Pitney appeared to be healthy during the show.
“It came through in his voice because he really let it rip. If you are ill, that would be one of the first things to show it,” he said. “The audience were in raptures.”
During a long career, Pitney had hits as a singer – “24 Hours from Tulsa,” “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” and “Half Heaven, Half Heartache.” As a writer, he penned “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson and “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee.
In 1962, Pitney had the top two songs on the U.S. chart – his rendition of “Only Love Can Break a Heart” was at No. 2, just behind a song he wrote for The Crystals, “He’s a Rebel.”
“He was a rare talent and a beautiful man, and his voice was unlike any other. I have great memories of working in the studio recording with Gene. He was a great guy, and I will miss him,” songwriter Burt Bacharach said in a statement.
Among the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs Pitney recorded were “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” “24 Hours from Tulsa” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart.”
Pitney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Pitney also had some success as a country singer, pairing with George Jones to record “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” and “Louisiana Man.”
“I’m a performer,” Pitney said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1997. “I’ve tried everything there is.”
Born in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 17, 1941, Pitney married his high school sweetheart, Lynne, in 1967, and kept a base in Connecticut all his life. He built a recording studio in his home in Somers, 20 miles northeast of Hartford.
Pitney said he wrote many of his best songs, including “Hello, Mary Lou,” in his candy-apple red 1935 Ford coupe, parked near a Rockville, Conn., reservoir.
He is survived by his wife and three sons.