May 20, 2012 – Robin Hugh Gibb (BeeGees) was born on 22 December 1949 in Douglas, Isle of Man, to Hugh and Barbara Gibb. He was the fraternal twin of Maurice Gibb and was the older of the two by 35 minutes. Apart from Maurice, he had one sister, Lesley Evans, and two brothers, Barry and Andy. They lived in utter poverty.
In 1953, the Gibbs watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the television. Their neighbour in Willaston, Isle of Man, Marie Beck who was the friend of his mother and her sister Peggy. Another neighbour, Helen Kenney was living in Douglas Head as Kenney recalls “Barry and the twins used to come into Mrs. Beck’s house and we would mind them, Robin once said to me, ‘We’re going to be rich one day, we’re going to form a band!’ “Little did I realise he meant it”.
His family moved to Manchester where at aged 8, Robin started out performing alongside his brothers as a child act encouraged by their father Hugh, a drummer and band leader. The Gibb brothers formed The Rattlesnakes which consisted of Barry on guitar and vocals, Robin and Maurice on vocals, Paul Frost on drums and Kenny Horrocks on tea-chest bass, and the quintet performed in local theatres in Manchester, their influences at that time such as The Everly Brothers, Cliff Richard and Paul Anka. In May 1958, the Rattlesnakes were disbanded as Frost and Horrocks left, and the name changed to Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats. In August 1958, the family traveled to Australia on the same ship as Australian musician Red Symons; it is rumored that the brothers began committing petty crimes such as arson, which may have been the reason the family moved to Australia.
While schoolboys in Manchester, Barry, the oldest Gibb brother, and his younger twins Maurice and Robin perfected the art of singing in close harmony. They first performed, aged nine and six, in the toilets of John Lewis, because that was where the best acoustics in town could be found. That shared bond as performers helped them escape from their handto-mouth existence; the family moved house every few weeks at one stage in order to stay ahead of the bailiffs.
Robin explained: “The real world was just too real and we didn’t want to be a part of normal life. We wanted to create a magic world for the three of us. The three of us were like one person, and we were doing what we needed to do: make music. It became an obsession.”
The brothers also developed a taste for truanting and getting into trouble. “Barry and Robin were pilfering right, left and centre from Woolies and getting away with it,” recalled Maurice in an interview before his death in 2003.
“One day, I was walking home and all the billboards in the main street in Chorlton were blazing away, firemen and policemen running around everywhere. That was Robin, the family arsonist. Another time he set the back of a shop on fire.” The family were advised about assisted passage to Australia by the neighbourhood policeman, who seems to have hinted that it was that or legal action. The three boys performed in their pyjamas every night on the deck of the ship which took them away.
Once in Australia, the brothers continued to perform and took the name Bee Gees, an abbreviation of brothers Gibb.
In 1963 their first single, “The Battle of The Blue and The Grey”, made the charts in Sydney and led to an appearance on a local TV station. In 1965 their single “The Spicks and Specks” gave them their first Australian No.1.
Dreaming of more than the Australian market, they returned to the UK in 1966 where they were auditioned by impresario Robert Stigwood, who got them a recording contract with Polydor, here they had their first major hit with “To Love Somebody”, co-written by Robin, followed by hits including “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”, “Massachusetts”, “Words” and “World”. But the lead vocals were credited to Barry, this eventually led to tension and in 1969, Robin left the group…
Once back in the UK in 1967, success came quickly; legendary music impresario Robert Stigwood took them on and they had their first hit in Britain with New York Mining Disaster. Robin was only 17, and fell in love with the first woman he met: Molly Hullis, Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s secretary. They were married within a year, and quickly had two children, Spencer and Melissa.
The BeeGees second single – To Love Somebody, co-written by Robin – became a pop standard and over the years was covered by hundreds of artists. The lead vocals on the record were taken by Barry. This led to considerable tension in the band, with Robin accusing Stigwood of favouring his brother as the lead vocalist. The band hung together for more chart successes, including Massachusetts and Words. But when his song Lamplight was relegated to the B-side of Barry’s First of May in 1969, Robin quit the group.
The pressure of fame was simply too much for vulnerable Robin, and his drug use became uncontrollable. “We used to go to America for a tour and I would stay up all night, collapse and then wake up in hospital suffering from exhaustion. I didn’t know what I was doing.” His parents had him made a ward of court because they were so concerned. He even quit the band – the first of many attempts to walk away from his brothers.
He had one hit single, Saved by the Bell, but was unable to follow it up and decided he was not cut out for a solo career. In 1970 the band reunited and achieved an immediate chart hit in the US with Lonely Days, which they followed up with How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? But it was clear that The Bee Gees’ brand of soulful ballads was no longer in fashion and there was a real danger they would fade into obscurity. Stigwood persuaded the brothers to switch their sound towards disco and their next single, Jive Talkin’, saw them make a chart comeback in both the US and UK.
His marriage was falling apart as the band became more famous, with Robin jetting around the world while Molly stayed at home with the children in Epsom, Surrey. A gulf opened up between the brothers, too. Maurice was a drinker, but Barry and Robin continued to share a taste for amphetamines. Each had their own manager, the arguments were frequent and Robin walked out several times.
At the summit of the band’s incredible success with the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever in 1977, (How Deep is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive and Night Fever, their most successful track), when the Bee Gees were at the height of their reincarnated fame as tight-trousered, bouffant-haired, nutmeg-tanned sex symbols, Molly told him their marriage was over.
“I loved my wife, but I was still very young and still attracted to other people,” he admitted. “I have a high sex drive and I was unfaithful. I’ve had quite a few physical encounters – probably more than 100. Some of them were disappointing. They were mostly a distraction, almost like notches on a belt. I didn’t have sex for love, just for fun.”
The separation was acrimonious, and Robin did not see the children for four years, although he is on better terms with them now. He recalls being unable to eat while the divorce dragged on. “I felt I was going to die from complete misery,” he said. Robin even ended up in prison in 1983 after the divorce judge found that he had breached an agreement by talking publicly about the marriage. Sentenced to two weeks in jail, he appealed and spent only a couple of hours inside.
Gibb continued writing songs for other artists, co-writing four of the tracks – among them hit song Woman in Love – on Barbra Streisand’s Guilty album with brother Barry. Robin also co-wrote material for Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and Kenny Rogers.
At a low ebb in 1980, he was introduced to his second wife Dwina. Sharing a birthday and an interest in history, Robin says it was love at first sight, and once contended that he might have known her in a former life. The birth of their son Robin John a year after his divorce from Molly was not publicly revealed until the lad was nearly one.
Early in the marriage, his younger brother Andy sought sanctuary with Robin and Dwina at their Oxfordshire home. He was just 30, and running away from a failed marriage, failing career and the rumored chaotic after-effects of cocaine addiction. He died suddenly at Robin’s home from natural causes of an inflammation of the heart muscle, it turned out later.
The Bee Gees however continued to record and perform and achieved some chart success, even though Barry had also been suffering from a number of health problems including arthritis, while in the early 1990s Maurice sought treatment for his alcoholism.
In 1997 they released the album Still Waters, which sold more than four million copies, and were presented with a Brit award for outstanding contribution to music.
In January 2003 tragedy struck again with the sudden death of Maurice at the age of 53. Following his death, Robin and Barry disbanded the group. Andy’s death had hit Robin hard, but a harder blow was the death of his twin Maurice, always the peacemaker and the extrovert in the group. Maurice died suddenly after his intestine burst. Robin was so grief-stricken that for months he couldn’t come to terms with his brother’s death. “I can’t accept that he’s dead,” he said later that year. “I just imagine he’s alive somewhere else. Pretend is the right word.”
Robin continued to tour and record and reunited with Barry in Miami in 2006 for a charity concert, prompting rumours of a possible reformation. In 2008 he was at the forefront of the campaign for a permanent memorial in London to the men of Bomber Command.
Two years later he sang the Bee Gees hit I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You with a group of soldiers in support of the Poppy Day appeal.
Also in 2008, Robin performed at the BBC’s Electric Proms, marking the 30th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever topping the UK charts.
But ill health dogged him. In 2010, he cancelled a series of shows due to severe stomach pains and went on to have emergency surgery for a blocked intestine, something his twin brother had died from.
In late 2011 it was announced that Robin had been diagnosed with liver cancer. His gaunt appearance prompted suggestions that he was close to death. However, he went into temporary remission and had been in recovery for several months. “I feel fantastic,” he told BBC Radio 2 in February. “I am very active and my sense of well-being is good.”
His final work was a collaboration with his son, RJ, on The Titanic Requiem, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the naval disaster.
Robin transitioned after contracting pneumonia while bravely battling against liver cancer on May 20, 2012.
From their early incarnation as pop troubadours to their dramatic reinvention as the kings of disco in the mid-1970s, The BeeGees notched up more than 200 million album sales worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Robin Gibb was a talented singer and songwriter whose best work came from his collaboration with his brothers.
“There are songs we wrote in 1968 that people are still singing,” he told one interviewer in 2008. “There’s very few artists with that kind of history.”