Tributes have been paid to Cilla Black, who moved from singing star in the vanguard of the 1960s Merseyside pop revolution to queen of Saturday night television and then subject of a much-praised TV biopic last year.
Black, 72, an OBE whose five-decade career was honoured last year by entertainment industry body Bafta, died at her home in Estepona near Marbella in Spain on Sunday.
Black’s publicist Nick Fiveash said: “It is with deep sorrow that I confirm the passing of singer and TV personality Cilla Black. Details of her death will be announced following the coroner’s report. Her family have asked for their privacy to be respected at this time.”
She is thought to have died from natural causes. She had arthritis and was deaf, saying last year that she was “falling apart”.
She told Radio Times she had fantasised about becoming a dame: “You don’t become a dame for doing what you enjoy, as I have, but if they want to give me one I wouldn’t turn it down.”
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Sheridan Smith, who played Black in the three-part drama Cilla, were among friends, colleagues in the entertainment industry and politicians who expressed their sorrow at her death.
McCartney, who is currently in Los Angeles, said: “Such a shock to hear about Cilla’s passing. She was a lovely girl who infected everyone with her great spirit. From first meeting her as a cloakroom girl at the Cavern in Liverpool, to seeing her many times since, she always had a fun-loving dignity that made her a great pleasure to be around. She had a fine distinctive voice and was always a bit of a laugh. It was a privilege to know and love her.”
Starr tweeted: “I just heard the news Cilla Black has left us she was a good friend we will all miss her peace to Cilla peace and love to the family.”
Smith, offering her condolences to Black’s family, said she was absolutely devastated. “She was the most remarkable woman, a true legend. She was so kind and helpful to me; it was a privilege to play her.”
Comedian Paul O’Grady told the Liverpool Echo: “Please tell me this isn’t true? We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. She’s like my sister. Apart from her hearing she was all right. We had a week together in Barbados at the beginning of the year and I saw her on my birthday. I thought she was well. I can’t believe it, to tell you the truth.”
Jimmy Tarbuck, who had been a friend for decades, told the same paper: “She was the total rags-to-riches story. Totally. She was Liverpool’s Cinderella, and she did go to the ball. What a career. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful career. She reached the heights, she epitomised the word star. A lot of people don’t. They call them that. But she was a star,” said Tarbuck.
“She was the girl next door that everybody loved and would have loved as a daughter, a daughter-in-law.” He added: “I remember her for the stupid laughs we had; at her birthday party, the last big one. She was a star all over the world, everybody knew her and that one name: Cilla. That’s all you had to say. Only a few people get that – Ringo, Sinatra, Presley. And that’s the company she kept. She was just a delightful, lovely, natural scouse girl. And I’ll miss her.”
Sir Cliff Richard said: “Some people will always be with us and Cilla is one of those people. I will always think of her as outrageous, funny, incredibly gifted but above all full of heart. “
“She was a very special person, and I have lost a very wonderful friend, I will miss her dearly. God bless her.”
There was a moving tribute, too, from US singer, actor and TV host Dionne Warwick, who burst to stardom in the 1960s. She said in a statement: “Saddened to hear that my friendly foe has made her transition. My sincere condolences to her family. The heavenly choir will add another rich full voice.”
For Gabby Logan, Black was the “complete entertainer/host in an era when everyone watched TV. She was a trailblazer.”
Politically, she appeared on stage at a Conservative rally in 1992, but said in a Guardian interview 12 years later that while she “loved John Major” and she “adored Tony Blair and Cherie”, she was apolitical.
Last year, she was among celebrity signatories in a letter to the paper, urging Scotland to vote no to independence.
The prime minister, David Cameron, said: “Cilla Black was a huge talent who made a significant contribution to public life in Britain. My thoughts are with her family.” Sajid Javid, the business secretary, said she had “brought great joy to my childhood”.
Chris Bryant, the shadow culture minister, said: “Whenever I met her she was very generous and entertaining with a wicked smile.”
Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon remembered: “I used to love her Saturday night show.
“My earliest memory of having a tantrum was over Cilla. I wanted her album. My mum and dad said no, my grandad said yes. I was four.”
Black, who also had a home in Denham, Buckinghamshire, grew up as Priscilla White, in a home without television in the predominantly Roman Catholic Scotland Road area of Liverpool. She worked at the Cavern Club, was friends with the Beatles and powered her way to the top of the charts with songs including Anyone Who Had a Heart and You’re My World.
The Cavern fondly remembered her – “The Liverpool lass who started in the Cavern cloakroom and became a #Legend Rest in peace,” it said.
Cilla, her eponymous variety show on the BBC, drew audiences of up to 22 million in the late 1960s and early 70s. On commercial television, from the mid-80s, she hosted Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise.
She was married for more than 30 years to Bobby Willis, who as boyfriend during early stardom had been her road manager. He took over as personal manager after the death of Brian Epstein, who also managed the Beatles, in 1967. Willis died, aged 57, from cancer in 1999.
Robert, one of their three sons, took over the job. Ellen, their daughter, died within two hours of her birth.
Over the past decade, Black made TV appearances on Loose Women among other programmes. Less than two years ago, she co-presented a tribute to her on ITV called The One and Only Cilla Black.
The BBC director general, Tony Hall, said Black “was a wonderful artist and talented entertainer who brought joy to millions. She will be deeply missed.”
Lord Grade, former executive chairman of ITV, told Sky News Black was “one of the great queens of British showbusiness”. “It’s a terrible shock, because there was plenty of life in Cilla left.”
He added: “She always felt like a friend in your living room when she was on TV. A magical lady. She had a huge, huge talent once she got her confidence. She became a national favourite, an enduring family favourite.”
Christopher Biggins, who starred alongside Black in Surprise, Surprise, said: “It’s devastating news, really devastating. She was a wonderful friend. She was someone who was a life force, she loved to laugh and loved to enjoy herself. She will always be with me. She was a national treasure.”
Sir Bruce Forsyth, TV presenter and entertainer, said Black was loved by everyone and had the “common touch”. Forsyth, 87, told ITV News: “Bobby will be there to meet her. She never really got over Bobby her husband leaving when he did. What a lovely performer, what a lovely lady and we’re going to miss you.”
Piers Morgan called Black a consummate, all-round entertainer.
“You use that phrase ‘national treasure’ quite a lot these days – people do. I just think in her case it is absolutely right. She’s a rare example of that phrase being spot on.”
Actor Russell Crowe added his tribute, saying: “Thanks for everything, Cilla. A loving life loved in the living of it.”
This article was written by James Meikle, for theguardian.com on Sunday 2nd August 2015 15.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010