25 Years Since Andy Gibb’s Death – A Remarkable, Lost Song

Andy Gibb.

A little over a week since Barry Gibb’s triumphant Mission Estate Concert in Napier (in front of 20,000 fans, see article below about my backstage experience), the Gibb family are in the news again today, specifically Andy. If he was still alive, today would be his 55th birthday and in just five days time, it will be 25 years since his death.

Andy Gibb’s was a tragic life, as well as tragically short. I’m sure there are lessons for us all when you look at the picture of a young man, born into a loving family, who had looks, fame and money and still felt so dreadfully inferior. This was a guy whose first three singles all went to US #1, who had the biggest hit of an entire year in the States (1978’s Shadow Dancing), who sold 20 million records in just three years and who was once deemed pretty enough to have a doll made in his image.

But 10 years after his Shadow Dancing peak, Andy was gone. With the hits having dried up in the early 80s, he’d marked his 30th birthday on March 5th 1988 with just his Mum Barbara in a cottage on brother Robin’s estate in Thame, England. Barbara knew her youngest was desperately depressed and all the family knew he was drinking too much so she’d flown from Miami to be with him.

The myth still persists that Andy took his own life, when in actual fact he died on March 10 1988 of an inflamed heart. It was a condition undoubtedly exacerbated by years of drug and alcohol abuse by a man who’d somehow lost his passion for life. And yet as Barry has pointed out several times, Andy had in secret obtained a pilot’s license in the year before his death. There was talk he’d be joining the Bee Gees for their 1989 album, the followup to their 1987 comeback smash ESP and he’d also signed a new solo deal with Island Records.

Seemingly there was much to live for, but that last factor, the new solo album deal, may have been part of the downward slide. With serious writer’s block (despite three older brothers as prolific as any songwriting team in history), a desire to shed notions of only having been a teen-idol and possible doubts that he even still wanted a career in music, Andy was in trouble.

Everybody who knew him said he was a kind, gentle soul with a genuine love of people. Not surprisingly, his death broke a lot of hearts, namely his Dad Hugh who himself died in 1992. The brothers often said Hugh was never the same again after Andy’s death, speaking of a sense of relief that father and youngest son could be reunited again.

Fast-forward to the present with Barry now as the only surviving Gibb brother, but still with Mum Barbara (aged 93), sister Lesley and his wife and rock of more than 40 years Linda, it is rammed home just how much this family have been through to bring this music to the world.

So what of Andy’s music? As a teen-idol in the disco-era, people might be surprised to learn that a lot of his own songwriting was in the country / pop vein which is so popular today. Music fans may also be unaware that his three studio albums (produced by Barry with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson) featured crack musicians like Don Felder and Joe Walsh from the Eagles. The musicianship is excellent on all three LPs, Flowing Rivers, Shadow Dancing and After Dark.

For the trio of US #1s, I Just Want To Be Your Everything is a sunny piece of carefree pop while Love Is Thicker Than Water is just about as dark a horse of a late 70s #1 in existence. A slow-burner, the song took months to reach the pop summit, the sort of song you don’t quite know what to make of until several listens, by which point the majesty of the two minute instrumental fade-out has become so addictive as to upset you if you turned on the radio and realized the song was nearly over.

The third and biggest of the #1s has somehow disappeared off radio playlists and yet it topped the chart for seven weeks and in 1978, the year of the Bee Gees, Andy outdid even his brothers (with Billboard’s biggest hit of the year). That said, all four brothers wrote Shadow Dancing, whose lightly funky textures and expert craftsmanship (listen carefully to the lead guitar licks and the horn arrangements towards the song’s end) make a mockery of claims the disco-era was catchy but simple.

To mark both Andy’s birthday and the 25th anniversary of his death, I’ve chosen a song which snuck through in the period shortly before his life ended. Mired in writer’s block while in those final days living in England in 1988, Andy had teamed up with Barry and Maurice in the Miami summer of 1987 to come up with a remarkable ballad. The song remained unreleased until 1991, three years after his death. Like literally dozens and dozens of songs in the brothers Gibb catalogue, this is a largely unknown piece of work which is not just a strong song, but sounds like a potential hit. This is Man On Fire:

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Joy Rothke says:

    "Man on Fire" is one of my favorites. Andy is our forever young sweet boy.

  2. Marita says:

    Gone too soon when he still had a lot to give. Thank you for remembering him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Andy Gibb will always be loved and rememebed by his fans. His music brought happiness to thousands and so glad that his music is still available to enjoy.

  4. Kathy says:

    Mr Roxborogh, I want to thank you very much on such a warm and honest article on Andys life, and death. I don't usually comment on articles, but I had to this time. I knew you being a big fan, would do a good article, and you didn't disappoint. I am 52 yrs. old, and have followed the Gibb Brothers, faithfully since 1968-69. I actually met Andy-twice, in 1981 and 1987, and he was just as kind, generous, and gracious as anyone who had ever met him has said! God bless you, and God Bless the entire Gibb Family, and may the Gibb Brothers music live on Forever!

  5. Cynthia says:

    This is so refreshing to know that one of the most "magical" talents of our generation is still being remembered. Thank you so much for this review of him and isn't it nice to also know what a good person he was and still is. God Bless Andy Gibb.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is a wonderful remembrance of Andy…thank you. You are a wonderful writer and have some interesting things to point out about Andy and his short life. Thank you for posting Man on Fire. I had never listened to it at length until now, and I see what you mean about it potentially being a hit. RIP Andy…wish you were here.

  7. Anonymous says:

    thanks, tim, for writing this heartfelt article. i love listening to andy's songs (even covers he did of other artists' music) because of the way he interpreted the words and melody; they were filtered so beautifully through his heart and soul. during certain songs, it is with a strong pang of loss that i wonder what might have been had andy lived. maybe, if the underlying depression had been addressed and treated more thoroughly, his future would have seemed less bleak. abusing alcohol and cocaine may have been the only way he knew to keep at bay the emptiness he felt inside. we, as fans, are lucky to have his music and the memories of his times with us. my hope is that his spirit is at peace alongside his dad, mo & robin. i'm sure wherever they are, the music sounds excellent.
    ~seannon

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Andy. I know he would have had a wonderful future ahead of him and joined his brothers on the One tour. I can imagine how great they would have been the 4 of them together, I think that is where Andy belonged. I believe Andy had a good heart and imagine he would have become a great family man like Barry had he met a special lady. I will look forward to seeing Andy , Mo and Robin sing in heaven with those lovely angelic voices! God Bless you Andy I miss and Love you always..

  9. Anonymous says:

    I saw him in San Francisco Performing Oh he was so young and so was I …. I love you Andy and miss you xoxoxoxoxoxo

  10. Anonymous says:

    Andy I miss you and Love you if only we would have gotten together I would have saved you Darlin …. Your songs remain a part of my life and you will always be in my Heart xoxoxoxoxoxo

  11. Thanks for all the incredibly positive comments everyone – I am so pleased you felt this article honoured Andy and indeed, the Gibb brothers. All the best – Tim.

  12. About a month ago i woke with the song "an everlasting love" in my head. Being oldet & with so many things going on in my; it' s been years since i listened to AG. I' ve always loved(and still love) Andy & his music. So my sis told me about youtube & i've been listening to/ watching AG nonestop for the past month. When he sings you see his passion. There was always an innocence to him. In the videos of him & Barry singing; you can clearly see the love they have for each other. I know that God called him home. I just wish i knew him & could have helped him with his issues. Andy Gibb 4 EVER

  13. Anonymous says:

    Such a loving tribute to one of the greatest acts of all time, along with his brothers – the BeeGees.

    I must say, however, to those who feel (and have stated) that they could have saved Andy, that task would have been impossible for you. A drug abuser is not an abuser at the hands of others, nor can an abuser be saved by anyone other than by himself.

    May that beautiful and talented man rest in eternal peace.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a beautiful song and lovely memory for Andy. Saw his brothers in Auckland, was a fan then and was strengthened after that concert. They are an amazing group and may the brothers that have passed, rest peacefully with their dad xxxxxx

  15. Anonymous says:

    I will never forget Andy – I got into him when I was in my early 20s – quite some years after he died, sadly I wasn't born to enjoy Andy's sweet music way back. I was just 3 when he died. I love all the Bee Gees music too and so upset when Mo died, and also recently Robin, but there's something special about darling Andy Gibb, and his gentle music. I really do have an Everlasting Love for Andy xxx

  16. Jennifer Kafton Staffen says:

    I fell in love with Andy Gibb when I was 13 years old. Seen him June 21,1978 at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh PA, I love all his songs as well as his brothers the Bee Gee's too. You did a wonderful biography of Andy Gibb, I only wish I could have met him in person to talk with him about his problems, because they say that talking with someone else who is depressed is better to listen to than a person who isn't. We all have problems. I sure do miss you Andy,RIP Sure hope that Barry moves forward in his life, and just remembers the good times. We all will be with our loved ones soon enough.

  17. Cheyenne says:

    Beautiful.Andy still had it.That family was amazing.
    Thank You For Sharing This Song.
    First time I’ve ever heard it.
    LOVED it.

  18. Margaret says:

    Andy passed away 29 years ago today…and his devoted fans truly have “An Everlasting Love” for this gentle soul and unique talent. His songs are timeless., and Andy will always be our beautiful Golden Boy. His lovely voice and interpretation of lyrics never fail to touch my heart strings, and I cry for what might have been. He so deserved to have a happy, long life, personally and professionally.

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