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Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

The Bee Gees' Gibb brothers paid the high price of fame

Robin Gibb is almost alone in suggesting there might be a direct link between great professional success and dark personal tragedy.

The stories of their lives are draped daily across the gossip pages of newspapers and magazines; the carefully stage-managed photocalls and the not so artfully orchestrated late-night pap shots as celebrities stumble, a little worse for wear, out of some hot nightspot or other, are the staple diet of entertainment news shows and, indeed, many of our lunch breaks.

And all of this is fair game isn't it? Just a bit of harmless fun, right?

Celebrities rely on the oxygen of publicity to promote their next project and society depends on that same high-earning celebrity for a bit of entertainment, both intentional - when we pay to watch their latest film or download their new album - and unintentional, when we take time out of our busy lives to pour over the details of who is up to what and with whom. Most of us regard this as the price they (the stars of the day) pay for spending their lives viewing the world from behind the heavily tinted windows of an expensively upholstered private limousine and having their whims pandered to by their permanently stressed, sleep-deprived personal assistants.

Robin Gibb might argue that price is far too high.

Gibb is one of the two surviving members of the Bee Gees, a multimillion-selling band of brothers best known for its members' perma-tans, tight trousers, falsetto voices and that late Seventies moment in their career when the group were so wildly successful, selling so many albums, that radio DJs across America took to organising events where the record-buying public were encouraged to "kill disco" by burning the band's LPs. But even as those piles of vinyl smouldered, the music lived on, just as it does today.

But, according to Robin, there was a high price to pay by the Gibb family for this fame. That price was paid first by Andy, the youngest of the Gibb brothers, who bagged six consecutive top 10 hits in America in the late Seventies as a solo artist, but whose addiction to drugs would claim his life five days after his 30th birthday in 1988.

Then there was Robin's twin brother Maurice, who died in a Miami hospital in equally tragic circumstances 15 years later, after an operation to correct a hereditary intestinal condition.

And now there is Robin himself, who was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago and who has since undergone successive rounds of chemotherapy.

Recent reports suggest Robin - who has Titanic Requiem, a new album of classical compositions to promote - is responding well to treatment and plans to honour his commitment to perform next month at the London concert to mark the centenary of the infamous ship's doomed maiden voyage. He is nothing if not steadfast and determined in the face of such horrible circumstances.

Now, the Gibbs are not the first, nor will they be the last, high-profile family to be cut with this kind of wound, but Robin is almost alone in suggesting there might be a direct link between great professional success and dark personal tragedy.

Speaking to The Sun newspaper in Britain last week, Gibb, 62, said that he sometimes wondered if "all the tragedies my family has suffered ... is a kind of karmic price we are paying for all the fame and fortune we've had".

This seems like the terribly bleak, although understandable assessment of a man whose family has been touched by fate operating at its desperate extremes. It also makes one pause for thought. What price will any of us have to pay for any success, hard-fought or otherwise, that we fashion in our lives? And what does that mean to those who are forced to pay that same price even when prosperity eludes them? The answers to both those questions are too grim and probably too genetic to properly contemplate.

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