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Saturday, October 23, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK


Cilla's husband dies

Bobby with Cilla when she received her OBE in 1997

Bobby Willis, husband of television star Cilla Black, has died after a long battle with liver and lung cancer.

The BBC's John Kay: "They met as teenagers in a Liverpool coffee bar"
The Blind Date presenter's husband of 30 years, who was diagnosed with the disease in July, died at The Royal Free Hospital in London at 1300BST on Saturday.

Cilla and their sons Robert 28, Ben, 24, and Jack, 17, were at his bedside.

Bobby, 57, had been admitted to the hospital suffering from a chest infection which escalated into pneumonia, said a spokeswoman for LWT.

[ image: Wedding: Cilla and Bobby's big day in 1969]
Wedding: Cilla and Bobby's big day in 1969
She continued: "Our thoughts and sympathy are with Cilla and her family at this traumatic time.

"Two Blind Date shows planned for Monday and Tuesday have been cancelled because of the bereavement.

"Cilla and her family have asked for privacy at this difficult time."

The couple, who lived in Denham in Buckinghamshire, were said to have had one of the strongest relationships in showbusiness. Before Bobby's illness they were said to have spent only three nights apart since their marriage.

When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Cilla said: "If it was me, I would have fallen to pieces and given up. But not Bobby.

"He refuses to be negative and has kept his marvellous sense of humour.

"He is an incredible man."

In the past Cilla has said of her husband, who was also her manager: "I'd be totally lost without him. I wouldn't have lasted five minutes without him."

Talk show host Michael Parkinson said: "Bobby was very engaging, very funny and a nice man. The two were inseparable. It's going to be awful for Cilla to cope with but she's got a very strong family."

He added: "It can be a strain on a relationship having a husband as a manager but it worked perfectly with them. I can't imagine anybody having a better relationship.

"They were two sides of the same coin. They made all decisions together. Bobby was Cilla's husband, manager, boyfriend and confidant."

Driving force

Bobby met his wife in a Liverpool club when she was a 15-year-old typist and he was a 17-year-old baker.

He is said to have shelved his own plans for stardom as a singer to concentrate on her career, driving her transformation from a 1960s singing star into Britain's most successful female entertainer.

In 1963, the couple moved from Liverpool to London, where Cilla met George Martin, the Beatles' producer.

"I think that is when work and our relationship became one," Bobby once said. "We made a bond that's lasted all through our life."

Their early years together were reported to have been turbulent, with friends saying there were furious rows in the days when she topped the bill at the London Palladium.

Bobby said he often used to start driving back to Liverpool after an argument, but would always turn round again.

Eventually he steered Cilla to a £12m fortune - she was recently listed as the UK's 27th richest woman.

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