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Saturday, October 2, 1999 Published at 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK


Child star Lena dies at 35

Lena Zavaroni: A child star who went from rags to riches

The family of former child singing prodigy Lena Zavaroni have told of their devastation after the star died aged 35, following a 22-year battle with anorexia.

The BBC's Mishal Husain looks back over Lena Zavaroni's life and career
Ms Zavaroni, who had been in hospital for several weeks, died after contracting pneumonia following an operation.

Members of her family were with her when she died at the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff, where she was being treated for depression.

Ms Zavaroni, from Rothesay on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, made her name with a five-week run on television's Opportunity Knocks in 1974.

This was followed by the chart-topping Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me. At the age of 12 she sang for the Queen at a Royal Variety performance.

But it was at the height of her fame that her tragic battle with anorexia began.

[ image: Zavaroni felt the pressure of showbusiness]
Zavaroni felt the pressure of showbusiness
Her cousin Margaret told Sky News: "It has been a long fighting battle for her, but she is at rest now."

She said Lena was not depressed or sad but preferred to spend time alone than with big groups of people.

"I wouldn't say she was depressed. She just went within herself. She didn't want to go out anywhere. She didn't want to be in too much company.

"She had all her family around her down in Hertfordshire. I wouldn't say she was unhappy but I would say that her anorexia controlled her for the past 20 years."

'Obsessed with weight'

Margaret told the Daily Record: "The whole family is devastated."

"Lena developed anorexia aged just 13 and fought the disease as hard as she could," she said.

"Doctors performed an operation to help her eat but she developed an infection and wasn't strong enough to recover from it.

"Our only comfort is that other girls with anorexia will take something from Lena's death. She is an example of what can happened when young women develop an obsession with their weight."

Family at bedside

Funeral arrangements have not yet been decided and it is not yet known whether it will take place in Rothesay or in England.

Lena's father Victor, his wife Christine, and Lena's sister Carla, who lives near London, were with her when she died last night, Margaret Zavaroni said.

"It is devastating", she added.

"She had been in hospital for about two weeks, and the operation was to help her eat, but she developed an infection. I still can't believe it's happened.

She said Lena's father was too upset to speak publicly about her death.

Tributes to star

Singer Bonnie Langford, who was at stage school with Lena, paid tribute to the prodigy whose fight against anorexia began at the height of her fame.

Ms Langford said: "I am deeply saddened that such a lovely person is no longer with us.

"She was an incredibly gifted and very sweet person. It is a tragedy that she has died so young."

[ image: Derek Jameson:
Derek Jameson: "She was bright and bubbly"
Former Fleet Street editor and radio and TV presenter Derek Jameson told of his sadness at the news of Zavaroni's death.

He said: "Only 35. What a tragic waste of a life.

"She was destroyed by something as ridiculous as an eating disorder. Surely something more can be done to help these young people who have this terribly serious problem."

Mr Jameson added: "She was bright and bubbly but she was also very nervous. I think her great handicap was that she lacked confidence.

"When you interviewed her you felt she was making an immense effort to be a star and it was all a bit much for her."

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