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Singer Gene Pitney Dies

POSTED: 9:04 am EDT April 5, 2006
UPDATED: 1:46 pm EDT April 5, 2006

LONDON -- Connecticut native Gene Pitney, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame whose hits included "Town Without Pity" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," died Wednesday at a hotel in Wales after playing a show, his agent said. He was 66.

Pitney was found dead in his hotel room in Cardiff, Wales. Police said the death did not appear suspicious.

"We don't have a cause of death at the moment but looks like it was a very peaceful passing," said Pitney's tour manager, James Kelly.

"He was found fully clothed, on his back, as if he had gone for a lie down. It looks as if there was no pain whatsoever."

He added: "Last night was generally one of the happiest and most exuberant performances we've seen out of him. He was absolutely on top of his game and was really happy with the show."

Pitney was born in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 17, 1940 and grew up in the Rockville section of Vernon, Conn. He married his Rockville High School sweetheart, Lynne, in 1967, and they raised three sons in Somers.

Pitney had his first success as a songwriter with "Rubber Ball," a Top 10 hit for Bobby Vee in 1961. Later that year, Ricky Nelson had a hit with Pitney's "Hello Mary Lou."

As a performer, Pitney had his first success that same year with "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away."

But Burt Bacharach and Hal David provided the songs that put Pitney in the Top 10: "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," "Only Love Can Break a Heart" and "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa."

"Only Love Can Break a Heart" was Pitney's biggest U.S. hit, peaking at No. 2 on the charts in 1962. The No. 1 song at the time was The Crystals' "He's a Rebel," written by Pitney.

He had more than a dozen Top 40 hits and even contributed to an early Rolling Stones recording session.

Pitney began playing in bands with friends from high school, leading the band Gene and the Genials.

Richard "Dick" Spurling and Robert "Bob" Terry, who both played in the five-member Genials, said Wednesday they were shocked when they received Pitney had died.

"He was a brilliant guy, and he could have done anything he wanted to in his life," Spurling told the Journal Inquirer of Manchester. "It was a fun time."

Terry said he was always struck by the way Pitney demanded excellence from himself while he was on stage.

"He never let up on getting it right and the people who worked with him, knew this," Terry said.

Pitney waited until 1990 for his first British No. 1 -- he rerecorded "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" with Marc Almond.

Pitney also had some success as a country singer, pairing with George Jones to record "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night" and "Louisiana Man."

He recorded in Italian and Spanish, and twice took second place at the San Remo Song Festival in Italy. He also had a regional hit with "Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare."

Pitney was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.