FILE PHOTO: Czech legendary pop singer Karel Gott performs onstage during a concert in Prague, Czech Republic June 11, 2009. REUTERS/Petr Josek
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Karel Gott, the top-selling Czech pop singer with a silky smooth tenor who shot to stardom under Communism and remained popular after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, has died. He was 80.
Dubbed the “Sinatra of the East” by the local press while on tour in Germany in 1967, Gott was voted the nation’s most popular singer 42 times. His original songs and covers of Western pop hits helped him sell tens of millions of records.
Gott’s wife, Ivana, announced his death on Wednesday on the singer’s official website. He had announced in September he was battling acute leukemia. Tributes flowed in from Czech celebrities and Prime Minister Andrej Babis proposed a state funeral for Gott.
The singer gained international notice in 1968 with his song “Lady Carneval,” which won a gold medal at a music contest in Brazil. He built up a worldwide following during his 60-year career but was most popular in Germany and former Communist eastern European countries.
Unlike many other Czech artists, Gott performed at home and abroad after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion. His signing of the so-called “Anti-Charter” opposing the dissident Charter 77 statement also did little to dent his popularity.
Born on July 14, 1939, in Pilsen, Gott trained as an electrician before he began singing in cafes in Prague in the late 1950s. He was eventually admitted to the Prague Conservatory to study opera and got his break when hired at the avant-garde Semafor theater in 1963.
Gott also performed in the west during the communist era. He spent six months in Las Vegas in 1967 and later returned to the United States, including two concerts at Carnegie Hall in 2000 and 2005.
In recent years, health problems had slowed the singer, but he promised to keep performing despite his illnesses. Gott is survived by two adult daughters from former relationships and two children born in 2006 and 2008 with his current wife.
Reporting by Michael Kahn