Thursday 19 September 2019

Obituary: Joe Longthorne

Much-loved singer and impressionist, who rose to fame on TV show, 'Search For a Star'

HONOURED: Joe Longthorne
HONOURED: Joe Longthorne

Joe Longthorne, who has died of cancer aged 64, was a singer and impressionist who started out in working men's clubs and became a stalwart of variety television and light entertainment.

His musical impersonations included Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Ray Charles - and Shirley Bassey, who once remarked: "Joe can do me better than I do myself."

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Joseph Patrick Longthorne was born on May 31, 1955, into a family of travelling show people in the tough Hessle Road area of Hull, on the banks of the Humber. He was one of nine children born to Fred and Teresa, though only four lived through childhood.

At the age of six, he won the Kingston upon Hull Parks Department talent contest, singing the 1950s song Sugartime - first prize was £1 and a toy car. But his mother warned him: "There are lots of singers going around, so you need to do more than just sing."

Accordingly, he began imitating famous singers, starting with Al Jolson, and began performing at funerals (sometimes standing on the coffin), in pubs, and even in fish and chip shops to earn enough money for his family's tea.

At 14 he landed a role on Yorkshire Television's Junior Showtime, a song-and-dance confection that drew on the music hall tradition and launched the careers, among others, of Pauline Quirke, Bonnie Langford and Lisa Stansfield.

After honing his act in working men's clubs, in 1981 he was a contestant on Search for a Star, which led to guest spots on such shows as Des O'Connor Tonight, The Marti Caine Show and The Les Dennis Laughter Show. In 1988, he got his own show, which ran for three years and featured musical heavyweights like Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Barry Manilow.

Though he developed a reputation for drinking and brawling, his career continued to flourish, with a month-long residency at Talk of the Town in London, and performances around the world, including sold-out shows in Chicago, Las Vegas and at the Sydney Opera House.

There was also a string of best-selling albums, several of which went platinum.

In 1994, he was the subject of This Is Your Life, but two years later he was declared bankrupt with debts of £1.5m after buying a helicopter, a Bentley, a mansion in Maidenhead and a collection of expensive suits.

In 2001, he reflected: "It was all the hangers-on that I acquired that did for me. I ended up picking up the bill for all the food and drink and hotel rooms when I went on tour.

"Let's face it, I haven't been the first, and won't be the last, to be taken to the cleaners. I estimate that I've spent £10m so far, but I don't wake up in a cold sweat at night worrying about it. I've never worried about the money."

By then he had been forced to sell his house, and it took until 2003 for him to pay off all his creditors. Although his television work had largely dried up, he continued to make live appearances despite several bouts of cancer.

Longthorne, who was bisexual, had a relationship which produced a son, Ricky. The two were estranged, but reunited in 2009.

In 1997, he met Jamie Moran at a party, and the two eventually married in 2014 when same-sex marriages became legal.

In 2012, Longthorne was appointed MBE for services to charities that included the Variety Club of Great Britain, Cancer Research UK and a charity for women and children in Nepal.

A week before he died, he turned up at the 95th joint birthday party of two of his British fans where he appeared with his five-piece band and played them their favourite songs.

Joe Longthorne, who was born May 31, 1955, died on August 3, 2019, and is survived by his husband and by his son.

Sunday Independent

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