British singer and television presenter Cilla Black reportedly died of natural causes at the age of 72 over the weekend.
Ms Black was a 1960s pop star of the Beatles era who became one of the most highly paid and successful light entertainment performers in the history of UK television.
Warm, kind and full of laughs, the working-class redhead from Liverpool — known across the UK just as “Cilla” — was a fixture on British TV screens for more than 50 years.
Singer Cliff Richard said he would “miss her dearly”.
“She was a very special person, and I have lost a very wonderful friend.”
Actress Joan Collins described her as a “resplendent and rare talent”, while Hollywood actor Russell Crowe said on Twitter: “Thanks for everything Cilla.”
Black’s enduring popularity stemmed largely from her amiable nature and her proud Liverpudlian accent, addressing people affectionately as “chuck” and her breezy “lorra, lorra laughs” catch-phrases.
She was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White on May 27, 1943 and was encouraged to sing by her family. In the early 1960s she got a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles regularly played.
She quickly impressed the Beatles and others with her talent. Black was introduced to her future manager Brian Epstein by John Lennon. In September, 1963, Epstein signed her up as his only female client.
Ringo Starr described her as “a good friend” and Paul McCartney said it was “such a shock” to hear the news.
“She was a lovely girl who infected everyone with her great spirit. From first meeting her as a cloakroom girl at the Cavern in Liverpool, to seeing her many times since, she always had a fun loving dignity that made her a great pleasure to be around,” Mr McCartney said in a statement.
Black’s debut single, Love of the Loved, written for her by Lennon and McCartney, was a relative failure. But her second single, Anyone Who Had A Heart, shot to No.1 and became the biggest-selling single by a female artist in the history of British popular music.
This launched her on an extraordinary pop career, with 20 consecutive Top 40 hits on the British single and EP charts, including 11 British Top 10 singles and two consecutive No.1 singles in 1964.
Her hits included You’re My World, Alfie, the theme song from the Michael Caine film of that name, and Step Inside Love.
Black’s pop career persisted until the end of the 1960s, by which time she was an internationally-acclaimed star, having notably successfully broken into the notoriously difficult United States market.
She branched into acting with 1964’s Ferry Across the Mersey, which featured Gerry & The Pacemakers, also out of Epstein’s stable.
But by August 1967, only days before his premature death, Epstein had engineered Black’s switch to television. It was a shrewd move and, largely through her own sheer drive, she remained at the height of popularity until the end of the century and beyond.
Her own variety show for the BBC regularly commanded staggering audiences of 22 million. So while her pop career was declining she was developing into the most popular figure on television.
It was this resounding TV success which was eclipsing her musical career, although she always said she preferred to be remembered for her songs than for anything else.
Blind Date (1985-2003), Surprise! Surprise! (1984-1999) and Moment of Truth (1998-2001) never lost their popularity during their long and successful runs.
Black was awarded an OBE in 1997. In 2005, her autobiography What’s It All About? became a best-seller. She has been the recipient of many TV honours and awards.
Willis, her husband and manager, to whom she was married for over 30 years, died in the late 1990s.
She is survived by three sons, one of whom, Robert, succeeded his father as her manager.