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Death of a musical icon

By Don Farmer

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The death of musical icon Ray Columbus, while anticipated by those close to him, would nevertheless have come as a surprise to a great many others.

Columbus had apparently been far from well for quite a while but he was one of those iconic figures that somehow was expected to live forever.

His name was, of course, synonymous with that vibrant hit single, She’s a Mod, recorded with his group, The Invaders, way back in 1964. But there was a lot more to Columbus that just one recording.

He made many other successful recordings and during his long tenure as an entertainer rubbed shoulders with the very best on offer including an association with the Rolling Stones and with Roy Orbison.

Columbus burst onto the New Zealand music scene at a time when the country seemed to be in particularly good shape entertainment-wise.

He shared the stage with polished performers such as the Howard Morrison Quartet, The Chicks, Larry Morris, Tina Cross, Shane, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Dinah Lee, Peter Posa and a host of others.

The years from the early 1960s until around 1980 were the golden years for local entertainers getting exposure, especially through television shows such as Let’s Go, C’mon and Happen Inn and Columbus was a regular face on them.

Whereas New Zealand made television documentaries seem to have improved dramatically over the intervening years and current affairs programmes have made a resurgence there is a paucity of homegrown entertainment programmes, more’s the pity.

Reports of the death of Columbus revealed something to me what I had not previously known.

It was evident Columbus had a voice problem over a long period, something most of us would likely have put down to vocal-cord strain over many years but it seems the voice was not helped at all by his addiction to cigarettes.

Columbus acknowledged this addiction by confessing he had smoked from the age of six and blamed the addiction for causing a heart attack in 2008.

At his smoking peak he was puffing an incredible 80 cigarettes a day, well and truly enough to impact on his throat along with every other part of his body.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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