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Late Bee Gee Robin Gibb hailed in native Britain

One day after he succumbed to cancer, Bee Gee Robin Gibb was hailed in his native Britain Monday as a master musician whose interests went far beyond the recording studio.

The distinctive singer, who wrote and arranged numerous hits for other major artists, was also recognized for his work on behalf of British veterans and his interests in politics, history and the Titanic.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a longtime friend of Gibb, said the singer had a "wonderful open and fertile mind" and offered condolences to Gibb's widow, Dwina, and their family.

"Robin was not only an exceptional and extraordinary musician and songwriter, he was a highly intelligent, interested and committed human being," Blair said.

Gibb suffered a lengthy illness and had appeared extremely gaunt in his rare public appearances during the last year. He was forced to cancel most of his engagements after he suffered an alarming weight loss and required emergency intestinal surgery.

He did find the energy, however, to compose "The Titanic Requiem" with the help of his son, RJ. But Gibb lapsed into a coma and was too sick to attend the gala premiere with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra last month.

The classical composition about the loss of the Titanic marked a new direction for the multi-talented Gibb, who along with his brothers Barry and Maurice created an enduring performing and songwriting team.

Gibb was a history buff who had worked overtime in his last few years to help create a permanent memorial to the flyers and crew who served during World War II. He also served for four years as president of the Heritage Foundation, a group that promotes British culture, backing a number of projects.

Heritage Foundation Chairman David Graham said Monday that Gibb was the natural choice for the job.

"He was so enthusiastic about the whole thing," Graham said. "He loved history, and he was a lovely fellow. We're going to miss him so much. He was always interested in the good of others."

The formal unveiling of the memorial in London's Green Park is scheduled for next month. The Bomber Command Association said in a statement that the project would not have succeeded without Gibb's help.

"It is a tragedy that Robin will not see the finished article," the group said. "But Robin did his bit for all who served in Bomber Command and on the behalf of the veterans and the relatives of those who died in World War II, we would simply like to say, thank you."

Casual listeners knew the Bee Gees best for the innovative disco sound they created with the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack, but music industry insiders viewed the brothers Gibb as extremely versatile music makers. Songs they wrote for other artists include "Islands in the Stream" by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, "Heartbreaker" by Dionne Warwick and "Woman in Love" by Barbra Streisand.

Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, whose band competed against the Bee Gees for top chart spots in the 1960s, praised Gibb's musical legacy.

"The Bee Gees from our era were quite important, especially the harmonies," Starr said Monday. "He had a great voice and they wrote great songs."

BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who has covered the music scene for decades, said the Bee Gees have left an impressive body of work.

"The Bee Gees are second only to (John) Lennon and (Paul) McCartney as the most successful songwriting unit in British popular music," he said. "Their accomplishments have been monumental. Not only have they written their own number one hits, but they wrote huge hit records for Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Celine Dion, Destiny's Child, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. The list goes on and on."