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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Reggae legend Desmond Dekker dies
Desmond Dekker - courtesy egigs.co.uk
Dekker's last gig was in Leeds on 11 May (Photo: egigs.co.uk)
Reggae singer Desmond Dekker has died suddenly from a heart attack, aged 64.

Dekker, whose 1969 hit Israelites was the first reggae song to top the UK charts, collapsed at his Surrey home.

Manager Delroy Williams said the Jamaica-born performer had seemed fine when they met a day earlier, adding: "I don't think I will ever get over this."

Reggae DJ Daddy Ernie, of Choice FM in London, said: "Any history book that you pick up on reggae, Desmond Dekker's name will have to be in there."

He added: "People like Desmond Dekker only come along once in a lifetime. This is one of the pioneers that has passed away - his place is definitely cemented in reggae history."

Mark Lamarr, presenter of BBC Radio 2's Reggae Show, said: "He probably was the first reggae superstar to have hits outside Jamaica in the US and UK.

"I saw him live dozens of times and he couldn't do a bad show - he was always magnificent."


Mr Williams said Dekker had led the way for reggae stars such as Bob Marley.

"Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not," he said.

"When he released Israelites nobody had heard of Bob Marley - he paved the way for all of them."

Desmond Dekker on Top of the Pops in the '70s
Surely only second to Bob Marley in terms of importance of bringing reggae music to the masses
Mitchell Stirling, Rochester, UK

The star was divorced with a son and daughter.

He had been due to perform at the Respect Festival in Prague on 2 June, and numerous dates across Europe during the summer.

His last concert was at Leeds Metropolitan University on 11 May.

"He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it - and then that was it," Mr Williams said.

"He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his best friend. I don't think anyone knew how close we were - we go back so far."

He added: "I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye properly."


Dekker was born on 16 July 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, and began his working life as a welder before turning to singing full-time.

Desmond Dekker
Dekker's hits included Israelites, It Mek and 007 (Shanty Town)
His band Desmond Dekker and the Aces topped the UK charts with Israelites, which also made the US top 10.

He moved to the UK in the '70s, later recording the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.

The musician's popularity waned in the late '70s and '80s, and Dekker was declared bankrupt in 1984.

But a new version of Israelites was released in 1990 and used in television commercials, boosting the star's popularity.


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