The Guardian broke the sad news to us earlier – Ska legend Desmond Dekker has died suddenly from a heart attack, his manager said today.
The 64-year-old Jamaican, best known for his 1969 smash hit Israelites, collapsed at his home in Surrey yesterday morning. An energetic live performer, he was about to start a European summer tour and was booked to play in Prague next week.
His manager and best friend, Delroy Williams, said he had seen the singer and songwriter the night before and he had seemed fine. “It is such a shock, I don’t think I will ever get over this,” he said. “Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not. When he released Israelites nobody had heard of Bob Marley – he paved the way for all of them.”
Mr Dekker, who was divorced with a son and a daughter, played his last gig at Leeds University on May 11. He was due to perform at the Respect festival in Prague on June 2, before heading on to Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Belgium and London.
Mr Williams said: “He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it – and then that was it. He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his best friend, I don’t think anyone knew how close we were – we go back so far.”
Mr Dekker was born Desmond Dacres on July 16, 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, and started working life as a welder before turning to singing full-time.
He found fame with his band Desmond Dekker and the Aces – their international hit Israelites topped the UK charts and made the top 10 in the US. Other successes included 007 (Shanty Town) and Rude Boy Train, which established him as an icon of Jamaica’s 1960s rude boy scene – the ska subculture of sharp-suited urban youth who lead violent invasions of dancehall parties.
He moved to the UK in the 70s and recorded the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff. But his success started to wane by the end of the 70s and early 80s and he was declared bankrupt in 1984.
Mr Williams described the singer as a private person who would go back to Jamaica from time to time but only to see his family rather than to perform: “He wasn’t out there like other stars partying all the time, he just did his job. He lived for his music and his children.”