'Sinatra of the East' Karel Gott dies at 80

Prague (AFP) –


Czech pop singer Karel Gott, who was a particular favourite in neighbouring Germany where media once dubbed him the "Sinatra of the East", has died at 80, his family said Wednesday.

"With the deepest sadness in my heart I announce that shortly before midnight on Tuesday my beloved husband Karel Gott passed away after a long and serious illness," his wife Ivana Gottova wrote on his website.

"He passed away at home, in quiet sleep, surrounded by his family."

Gott had revealed last month he was undergoing treatment for acute leukemia, years after recovering from cancer.

Czech President Milos Zeman led the tributes, as the government announced plans for a state funeral, the first since the death of former president Vaclav Havel in 2011.

"Extremely sad news for our whole country," said Zeman. "Karel Gott was a real artist who gave himself to others.

"Karel Gott gave his life to generations, he gave himself to us all," he added in a message tweeted by his spokesman.

"I grew up listening to Karel Gott, just like everyone else," tweeted Prime Minister Andrej Babis, adding: "Maestro, I appreciated you more than I can tell."

At an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, Babis's cabinet decided on the state funeral, probably at Prague's St Vitus Cathedral, and to make the as-yet unspecified date a day of national mourning.

"We are waiting for the family to tell us what they want and what Mr Karel Gott would want," Babis told reporters.

Messages of sympathy poured in on social networks, while outside Gott's villa in Prague, people brought flowers and lit candles. Many of the visitors were in tears.

Celebrities, from singers to athletes, sent their own messages of sympathy.

"You will always be in our hearts, Maestro," tweeted two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, adding a picture of herself with Gott.

Gott was known as "Divine Karel" for his impeccable tenor voice, and had been voted the most popular singer 42 times in the annual Golden Nightingale poll of Czech music fans.

He released almost 300 records and CDs, selling tens of millions of copies.

Although his hits included cover versions of The Beatles' "From Me To You", Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and Alphaville's "Forever Young", most of them were written by Czech songwriters.

Born on July 14, 1939, Gott trained as an electrical mechanic before studying to be an opera singer.

He rose to stardom in the 1960s touring the US and what was then West Germany, and represented Austria in the Eurovision song contest.

That was when German papers described him as the "Sinatra of the East".

He managed to retain his popularity following the 1968 invasion of Prague by Soviet-led armies, a time when many singers were banned from the stage for political reasons.

Gott, who was also a skilled painter and an occasional actor, won awards in countries including Germany, Poland and Russia.

He had two daughters with his wife Ivana, 37 years his junior, as well as two older daughters with previous partners.