Bee Gee’s sudden death stuns his family and friends

Family and friends of Maurice Gibb remained baffled Sunday how the longtime Bee Gee fell into a coma and died just hours after seemingly successful surgery to correct an intestinal blockage.

Gibb, 53, was hospitalized Thursday after suffering intense stomach pain at his Miami home. He suffered cardiac arrest before the intestinal surgery, but he seemed to be recovering from both.

“He twiddled his toes, he held his daughter’s hand,” said David Most, a longtime friend. “His organs were all functioning. We thought, ‘It’s the turning point,’ and suddenly he was in a coma.”

“Everyone was just believing Maurice was coming around and we woke up to this awful news,” said Peter Bassett, a spokesman for Gibb’s twin brother Robin. “It’s the worst possible news anyone could have expected. It’s just too shocking to think about.”

A spokeswoman for Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami confirmed Gibb’s death, which may have come late Saturday night or early Sunday, but she gave no further details.

The singer’s death sparked a landslide of tributes, with a BBC Web site recording more than a thousand messages in less than 12 hours.

His family released a statement: “His love, enthusiasm and energy for life remain an inspiration to all of us. We will deeply miss him.”

Gibb’s death was front-page news in Australia, where he, Robin and older brother Barry moved from Britain in 1958, the year they formed the Bee Gees, named so for the Brothers Gibb.

In 1967, they scored the first in a string of international hits, including “To Love Somebody” and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” in a catchy pop style similar to that of the Beatles. “Did we sound like the Beatles?” Barry Gibb said several years later. “I hope so. We tried hard enough.”

Their smooth harmonies and incredibly catchy tunes kept them popular until, in 1977, they sang on the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever,” which became their golden dream and their worst nightmare. Packed with hits like “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever,” the album sold more than 30 million copies. It also made the Bee Gees synonymous with disco music, a narrow image they spent the next quarter-century trying to shake.

“Some people still think of us as a disco act,” Maurice Gibb said in the late 1990s. “We never were. But it’s this curse that follows us around.”

When the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the Hall noted dance music was only a small part of their repertoire.

Maurice Gibb played bass and keyboards and sang harmony, and there were occasional suggestions he felt overshadowed. Though friends said he had a lively sense of humor, he had his demons, and he went through alcohol and cocaine abuse in his 20s and 40s. Maurice, who always wore an Alcoholics Anonymous lapel badge, told Reuters in 1997, “I used to be a real terror.”

“I just enjoy life to its fullest now,” he said. “There’s two days a week I don’t worry about now, and that’s today and yesterday.”

He was briefly married to the pop singer Lulu in the ’60s before he met his second wife, Yvonne. They remained married and had two children, now in their 20s.

Gibb’s youngest brother, Andy, a teen idol in the ’70s, died of heart failure in 1988 at 30.

Robin and Barry were able to see Maurice before he died, Bassett said.

“The family are together today at Robin’s house in Florida and all are utterly bereft at this unexpected loss,” he said.

It was unclear whether Robin and Barry would go on to record without their brother. But the music the Brothers Gibb made, music that millions of people can hum even against their will, still defines an era.