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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obituary: Abi Ofarim

German-Israeli singer behind the No.1 hit Cinderella Rockefella

DUO: Abi and Esther Ofarim in 1960. Photo: David Redfern
DUO: Abi and Esther Ofarim in 1960. Photo: David Redfern

Abi Ofarim, the Israeli-born folk and pop musician who has died in Munich aged 80, enjoyed notable if brief success in Britain in the late 1960s with his singer wife Esther, reaching No 1 with the catchy novelty record Cinderella Rockefella.

The couple met in Israel in 1959 when appearing on stage together: he was 21 and she 18. Esther's crystalline voice (and equally striking looks) soon gained her a part in the film Exodus, as well as the admiration of Frank Sinatra. Nonetheless, the pair married in 1961, adopted the stage name Ofarim ("fawn") and, after Esther won the Tel Aviv song festival, left to make their careers in Europe.

In 1963, representing Switzerland, she came second in the Eurovision Song Contest amid controversy. Accompanied on guitar and backing vocals by Abi, her rendition of T'en vas pas appeared to have garnered the most votes, until the Norwegians changed theirs, handing victory to nearby Denmark.

Having been awarded a Silver Rose at the Montreux television festival, the Ofarims settled in Germany, scoring big hits with Noch einen Tanz and with a song by the Bee Gees, Morning of My Life. Then in 1967, they recorded a tune by the comedy writers Nancy Ames and Mason Williams (best known for his instrumental Classical Gas).

With its trad jazz feel and whimsical lyrics - the refrain "You're the lady" was sounded like a yodel, "yo-de-la-dee" - Cinderella Rockefella was somehow exactly of the moment, absurd but irresistible (rather like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody in its time). A short film made to promote it captures the dandyish feel of London fashion of the period, all bowler hats and mini-skirts.

Britain was then receptive to international folk-style acts such as Sonny & Cher and Nina & Frederik (Little Donkey), and after the Ofarims sang on The Eamonn Andrews Show the ditty raced to the top of the charts in February 1968. It stayed there for three weeks, succeeding Manfred Mann's Mighty Quinn. They followed up by releasing an English version of their first German hit as One More Dance, which got to No 13.

Thereafter they appeared regularly on the BBC alongside the likes of Tom Jones, played concerts and were presented to the Queen. Abi Ofarim recalled that she asked if he had been in the army, to which he replied, to laughter: "Yes. And you?" He was well-known enough to be impersonated by a notorious fraudster calling himself "Bobby Ofarim", who was revealed to be one Norbert Knoche, shoemaker.

The duo then embarked on a world tour, but there were already cracks in their marriage. Abi became involved with the German actress Iris Berben, and in 1970 he and Esther went their separate ways both musically and matrimonially.

He was born Avraham Reichstadt on October 5, 1937, at Safed, in what was then British-administered Palestine. His gifts were precociously apparent, and after ballet school he made his stage debut in Haifa at 15 and had his own dance studio at 18 before doing military service.

Not perhaps as relaxed or as dedicated a performer as Esther (whose voice remains under-appreciated), Ofarim attempted a solo career with less success than her. He did, however, find a niche in Germany as a manager, arranger and composer, claiming 59 gold records.

Yet these achievements were overshadowed by his not-very-private life, and stories emerging of drink and drugs and car crashes. In 1979 he was arrested for possession of narcotics and suspected tax evasion and sentenced to a year on probation. Thereafter, he stayed clean and in 2009 released his first LP for 27 years, Too Much for Something. Latterly, he had started a drop-in centre for elderly people.

Abi Ofarim, who died on May 4, was divorced from his third wife, Sandy, and is survived by their two sons, who are both in showbusiness.

© Telegraph


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