Her sons were blessed with musical gifts that brought riches and fame. On Monday Barbara Gibb was living a parent’s ultimate nightmare – preparing, for the third time, to lay a child to rest.
Her son Robin Gibb – a Bee Gees founder known for his astonishing vocals and songwriting skills – died Sunday after a long battle with cancer at the age of 62.
Earlier, she had lost her sons Andy Gibb, a pop idol who died in 1988 at age 30 from a heart ailment, and Maurice Gibb, a member of the Bee Gees and Robin’s twin, who died in 2003 of acute intestinal problems.
Several months before his death, Robin Gibb told a British newspaper that he sometimes wondered if the family is paying a “karmic price” for the Bee Gee’s mind-blowing success. And friends of Barbara Gibb have been quoted as saying she believes the family may be cursed.
Before illness struck, the Gibb family enjoyed remarkable good fortune. The boys were raised in challenging economic circumstances but were exposed to music at an early age because their father was a bandleader and a drummer and their mother had experience as a singer.
They started singing professionally as teenagers, moving within a few short years to prominence first in Australia, then throughout the world.
But the apparent ease of this meteoric rise was followed by later tragedy.
Both Robin and Maurice – the twins – suffered debilitating intestinal problems that led to their premature deaths. Robin suffered from colon cancer and other digestive ailments. He became gaunt even before his cancer diagnosis.
Of the four boys Barbara Gibb raised in England and Australia before they became global stars, only Barry, the eldest, is still alive. She also has a daughter living in Australia who has stayed out of the public eye.
The family’s place in pop history is assured, not only because of the Bee Gees’ groundbreaking success during the disco era, when they helped define a totally new sound that filled dance halls throughout the world, but also with their success as songwriters and producers.
Their career began in Australia in 1963 and saw them score their first major international hits in 1966 and 1967, when their sound was influenced by the success of the Beatles, who were then topping worldwide charts.
They prospered during the disco era, long after the Beatles had broken up in acrimony, and continued to ride a show business wave for several decades afterward.
Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said Monday that Robin Gibb and the Bee Gees left an enduring musical legacy.
“God bless him and God bless his family,” Starr said. “The Bee Gees from our era were quite important, especially the harmonies. I didn’t know him that well, I knew Maurice more than the other two, but he had a great voice and they wrote great songs.”
The group also wrote many hits for other stars, earning substantial royalties when their songs were performed by the likes of Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick and others.
The British press has reported that Barbara Gibb, a 91-year-old who lives in California, has been in England in recent weeks as Robin’s condition worsened when he suffered from pneumonia and drifted into a coma. She has made no public statements, and the family, including his widow Dwina and his children, has asked for privacy while they mourn.
Plans for a funeral or memorial service have not been announced.