Diminutive Australian rock and roller Stevie Wright has died at Moruya Hospital on the NSW South Coast, aged 68.
The legendary singer and songwriter, initially billed as "Little Stevie", was born in Leeds, England, in 1947 and migrated to Australia when he was nine.
Wright was best known for fronting The Easybeats, a band Wright formed in the 1960s with fellow immigrants he met at the Villawood Hostel. They were Harry Vanda, Dick Diamonde and George Young. Englishman Gordon "Snowy" Fleet rounded out the line-up, which had a string of hits including 'She's So Fine', 'Wedding Ring', 'I'll Make You Happy' and 'Sorry'. Wright was famous for his acrobatic stage performances, which included energetic backflips and frenetic mod dance moves.
Wright was lead vocalist on the Easybeats' only international hit, 'Friday On My Mind', which peaked at number one in Australia in 1966. In 2001, the Australasian Performing Rights Association named 'Friday On My Mind' the best Australian song of all time.
Together with songwriting partner George Young, Wright also scored a mild hit in 1966 with 'Step Back', which he wrote for Johnny Young.
After the Easybeats disbanded in 1966, Wright achieved success as a freelance musician, songwriter and producer, continuing to work regularly with his former bandmates Vanda and Young.
In 1973, Wright appeared as Simon Zealotes in an Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and started using heroin. He tried to kick the habit by taking methadone and when that was not successful, Wright booked into the controversial Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney and undertook deep sleep therapy. The treating physician, Dr Harry Bailey, was later exposed as a fraud after several patients including Wright suffered brain damage and other negative reactions to his treatment.
Despite his ongoing heroin addiction, which reportedly lasted 20 years and culminated in Wright's arrest for attempted housebreaking in 1984 after attending a drug rehabilitation centre, Wright continued to collaborate with Vanda and Young on various projects. One of the most successful was in May 1974, when Wright released 'Evie Part 1, 2, 3'. Vanda and Young produced the Australian rock classic, which was the only 11-minute song to chart at number one anywhere in the world.
Wright also lent his vocals to the Vanda and Young studio band Flash in the Pan, and released singles such as "Waiting for a Train" in 1982.
Wright's ongoing struggle with heroin and alcohol abuse, and his meteoric rise and fall, were the subjects of a controversial book called Sorry: The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright by Australian journalist Jack Marx. His heroin addiction continued in the 80s and 90s, and he reportedly came close to death a number of times. However, he continued to perform live although he often had to sing from a stool on stage. Wright was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as a member of the Easybeats in 2005.
In later life, Wright was largely retired and lived in Moruya on the NSW South Coast. He reportedly fell ill on Boxing Day and was taken to Moruya Hospital, where he died on 27 December 2015.
His death prompted a flow of tributes.
Johnny Young, who performed the Wright-penned 'Step Back' in 1966, said Wright was a wonderful musician and songwriter:
"He could take any audience and slay them with his energy. He lived a pretty rugged life at the end of it .... I prefer to remember when he was younger."
A fan tweeted:
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