Mixtapes for Hookers

The Long, Sad, Slightly Campy Kathy Kirby Story
December 29, 2011, 11:59 am
Filed under: music | Tags: , , ,

Amid all the year-end obituary roundups that have recently surfaced on the internet, one name I haven’t seen yet is that of Kathy Kirby, the British singer who died this May and who was, at one point, Britain’s highest-paid television star.

I suppose that shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. Kirby never had any hits in the US, and her last British chart appearance was forty-five years ago. Still, her booming voice and her bizarre, sad personal life gave her quite a dedicated fanbase.

In 1954, at the age of sixteen, Kirby approached famed bandleader Burt Ambrose and asked him outright whether she could sing with his band that night. Hearing her powerful vocal chords he agreed, and that led to Kirby’s traveling the nightclub circuit with Ambrose for three years before she embarked on a solo career. He eventually became her manager and, later, her husband, despite the fact that he was forty-two years her senior.

Ambrose styled Kirby as a cross between Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe, all big blond curls and bright red lipgloss. (Her lipgloss was so poppin’, apparently, that a 2005 biography of the singer was actually called Secrets, Loves, and Lip Gloss.)

“Secret Love,” Kirby’s biggest hit, is a Doris Day number cranked up to eleven, as over-the-top as it is totally fabulous. It was also quite a sensation, with NME readers naming Kirby the Best British Female Vocalist of that year.

She had a second top ten hit, “Let Me Go, Lover,” but soon her rather outmoded stylings lost resonance with British audiences who preferred the more modern Dustys and Petulas and Lulus and Mariannes. Though Kirby herself wanted to sing fresher material, her husband–then close to seventy–refused to allow it. And once Kirby had a brief affair with game show host Bruce Forsyth, Ambrose stopped booking shows for her because he was afraid that she would leave him. “I think I could have played romantic leads or light comedy roles in movies,” she said in a rare 2009 interview, “but my silly affair with Bruce had inadvertently brought it all to an end. I could feel frustrated and bitter but in the end I just put it down to experience. What else could I do?”

Ambrose died in 1971, at which point Kirby realized that her finances had been badly mishandled. Four years later she was bankrupt and homeless, finding herself in court for skipping out on a hotel bill. Due to her homelessness, apparently, the court ordered her to a psychiatric hospital, at which point her life took another odd turn.

A fan named Laraine McKay began visiting Kirby in the hospital and the two grew close. Once Kirby was released the two began a lesbian affair, one which ended abruptly when McKay was arrested and imprisoned on fraud and forgery charges. Not too long after, Kirby was diagnosed with schizophrenia and, tired of being haunted by tabloid journalists, by her early forties had retired to a quiet life in West London.

She died on May 19 at the age of 72.

(read more about Kirby here)

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Very basic biog, but check into the family, both brides are titled, one married to mark thatcher, the other to daily mail family, multi millonairs, Kathy died in poverty!

Comment by Mark

Wait, sorry, which brides?

Comment by mixtapesforhookers

Kathy’s neices, her sister Pat’s daughters.

Comment by tom o'brien

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