“Such a shock to hear about Cilla’s passing,” Paul McCartney tweeted. “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.”
Continued the ex-Beatle: “She had a fine distinctive voice and was always a bit of a laugh. It was a privilege to know and love her.”
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, who wrote his hit song “Photograph” for Black but decided to record it himself, 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.”
A fixture for over 50 years in Britain, she passed away at her home in Spain from what appears to be natural causes, according to local police. Black’s publicist confirmed her death this afternoon.
With her distinctive red hair, Liverpudlian accent and cheeky, down-to-earth charm, Black was beloved by UK audiences. Born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool in 1943, she became closely associated with The Beatles who sparked to her talent when she occasionally sang at the Cavern Club where she worked part-time as a coat-check girl in the early 60s. Her name change from White to Black was the result of a mistake in a British music magazine that Black chose to keep.
Managed at one point by Brian Epstein, her first single, “Love Of The Loved,” was written for her by John Lennon and McCartney. Dubbed a relative failure, it was followed by hit versions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “You’re My World,” a cover of an Italian original. Both hit No. 1 on the UK charts and had some spins in America, though her fame in the U.S. never came close to her popularity in the UK. Ultimately, she had 11 Top 10 hits on the British charts between 1964 and 1971.
Black later found enduring success as a TV personality and game show host. Her BBC variety show, Cilla, aired from 1968-1976 and featured guest appearances by such stars as Cliff Richard, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Charles Aznavour, Starr, Donovan, Dusty Springfield and Ethel Merman.
Solidifying her status as one of the most familiar faces on UK television, she hosted hit entertainment series Surprise Surprise and Blind Date beginning in the 1980s. The latter, a Saturday night staple akin to The Dating Game, ran from 1985-2003 on ITV.
She was awarded a Special BAFTA TV Award in 2014 and the year prior celebrated a half-century in show business. At the time, ITV broadcast a special tribute, The One And Only Cilla Black. Also last year, ITV aired Cilla, a three-part bio-mini that starred Sheridan Smith and told the story of Black’s rise to fame. It was penned by Philomena‘s Jeff Pope.
Though Black never had the Stateside success of female peers like Lulu, Dusty Springfield or Petula Clark, she gained some recognition during the 60s British Invasion, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and in the 1965 Gerry and the Pacemakers film Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey. U.S. Beatle fans would know her as the Swinging London pal (and early interpreter) of Lennon and McCartney.
Tributes have been pouring out today. British 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.” Here’s her friend Joan Collins:
— Joan Collins (@Joancollinsdbe) August 2, 2015