Robin Gibb never had much time for the real world and he preferred to live in his own musical never-never land, which, for him, transcended the vagaries of everyday life.
“I’m at my happiest when I’m absorbed in the creative process,” Robin Gibb once said.
“Art is about for ever, beauty and immortality. I don’t think of death. That’s for other people.”
Sadly, it wasn’t.
Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees’ brilliant lyricist, died on Sunday at the age of 62 after contracting pneumonia while battling against cancer of the colon and subsequently of the liver.
His wife Dwina, 59, daughter Melissa, 37, and sons Spencer, 40, and Robin-John, 29, were with him.
The sad irony of the timing of Robin Gibb’s death will not have been lost on his family. Over the past year he had worked feverishly to complete his first classical work, the Titanic Requiem, to mark the centenary of the sinking of the doomed ship. He fell into a coma in hospital on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
“I think it’s one of my best pieces. I’m very proud of it,” he said when he played the piece before its release.
Intense and fast-talking, Robin Gibb abhorred rules and for the most part lived outside them in his 11th- century former monastery home in Thame, Oxfordshire, where the tennis court had been ripped up and replaced with a druidic stone circle.
Robin Gibb drew a sense of calm from the property’s history. But his mind was rarely at rest.
With his twin Maurice (35 minutes his junior), who died from a ruptured intestine in 2003, and older brother Barry, the Bee Gees’ fertile imaginations gave us such pop classics as Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love and Night Fever.
Robin Gibb once said: “An artist is someone who uses art to run away from reality. There are no rules and regulations in the creative world.”
Nor, it seems, in his 28-year marriage to bisexual Dwina, 59, a member of the Daughters of Brahma (a Hindu sect that teaches celibacy) and patroness of the order of the druids.
Three years ago, Robin Gibb fathered a daughter, Snow Robin, during an affair with the family’s housekeeper, Claire Yang. Not surprisingly, the child’s birth made headlines when it was made public.
Last night a friend said: “Robin adored all his children and there is no question that Snow Robin will continue to be cared for.”
The little girl and her mother were originally relocated to a luxury converted barn four miles from the Robin Gibbs’s mansion.
They then moved to a £1.5 million ($2.4 million) Tudor-style detached house in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, for which Robin Gibb paid the £2,590 ($4,100)-a-month rent, but are believed to be living in a converted barn on Gibb’s Oxfordshire estate.
Following the revelations, Dwina was painted colorfully with talk about her sexuality, reading fortunes with tarot cards and a belief in reincarnation. She spoke about little orbs she’d seen around the house, believing them to be spirits from another life.
However, Robin Gibb didn’t share her beliefs.
“I don’t have a faith in an after-life,” he said.
“This is it. You’ve got to grab life.”
Indeed, Robin Gibb had set out to live his as colorfully as possible, creating with his brothers a world of music to escape a childhood of genuine, tummy-rumbling poverty.
Born on the Isle of Man, the Gibbs moved around Britain as their father, a struggling musician, sought work to feed his five children: daughter Lesley, Barry, Maurice, Robin and the youngest son, Andy.
Talking about the bond he shared with Barry and Maurice, Robin Gibb said: “The real world was just too real – and we didn’t want to be a part of normal life. We wanted to create a magical world for the three of us, and the only way we could do that was to lock ourselves away and be creative.”
Maurice and Robin Gibb started singing harmonies at the age of six, practicing in the bathroom. In 1958, the family emigrated to Australia, where the three elder brothers launched their recording career.
They sang on local radio and TV stations and were soon making records. Their song Spicks And Specks became a huge hit in Australia. Before long, they were supporting their entire family, and moved back to England in 1967.
After a first flurry of success, their popularity waned and they were reduced to touring northern working men’s clubs. By 1974 they thought they were finished.
Then they experimented with a new sound – the emphasis being on dance rhythms, high harmonies and a funk beat.
Barry Gibb sang falsetto for the first time, and with Jive Talkin’ they suddenly found audiences in love with their music. It shot to No. 1 and was the first of many hits.
Their songs brought them enormous wealth. Robin Gibb was worth £140 million ($225 million) and he owned a £3 million ($4.8 million) mansion in Florida, which he loaned to Tony and Cherie Blair for a holiday in 2006.
Personal happiness, however, was to prove more elusive.
Aged 18, Robin Gibb married his first love, Molly Hullis, a secretary in the office of The Beatles’ first manager, Brian Epstein. While courting, the couple survived the 1967 Hither Green train crash in South-East London, which killed 49 people.
Robin Gibb later recalled: “I remember it vividly – children were trapped, passengers were being given anaesthetics to have their limbs removed. It was horrendous, like Dante’s Inferno.”
The tragedy left him with the view that “the past is just a memory and tomorrow is only what we imagine”.
By the time Robin Gibb was in his early 20s, he and Molly Hullis – who was three years his senior – had two children. But he had become increasingly dependent on amphetamines to stay up all night recording.
He wasn’t eating or sleeping and his ‘medication’ made him increasingly paranoid and unpredictable. He was anxious about being mobbed by fans and ranted about erecting crush barriers everywhere that he and his brothers went.
His marriage began to fall apart. He admitted he hadn’t spent as much time with Molly as he should have done.
“She wanted more of a home and roots. Because of my nature and work, I needed to keep changing my environment.”
Robin Gibb later blamed his infidelity on his high sex drive.
“I didn’t have sex for love, just for fun,” he admitted
In a radio interview, he joked about having had threesomes and “cruising” for sex, not realizing it would make headlines around the world. (He would later give second wife Dwina a blue Jaguar sports car by way of an apology for causing her such embarrassment).
While Molly Hullis raised their two young children at their home in Surrey, Robin enjoyed countless one-night stands in America – more than 100 by his own estimation.
Robin Gibb recalled: “They were mostly a distraction – almost like notches on a belt.”
The couple’s divorce was acrimonious and a bitter custody battle resulted in Robin Gibb being banned by a court from seeing his children.
The singer shut himself away for two years, cried, slept all day and hit the bottle.
“At times, I felt as though I was going to die from complete misery. I felt I was on the verge of madness,” he said.
“Looking back, I realize I might not have come out of it alive. But I never took serious drugs like LSD or cocaine. I was scared stiff of them.”
Eventually Robin Gibb met Dwina, someone who did understand his need for space within a relationship.
He controversially claimed she had given her “blessing” to his many affairs.
“We don’t go round joined at the hip because we’re married. We’ve been liberal-minded, but I don’t think we’ve actually used the phrase open marriage,” Robin Gibb said.
“She gives me my individual freedom and space to be creative.”
The couple also indulged in voyeurism, with Robin Gibb watching as Dwina made love to lesbian partners. Robin Gibb once said: “I was thinking as I lay in bed last night, with my wife and her lover on either side of me, that I’m thoroughly spoiled.”
Dwina was understanding when he admitted to having had affairs with some of her friends, but he is believed to have hurt her deeply by fathering Snow Robin with their housekeeper.
For her part, Dwina has always refused to talk publicly about what happened, and stayed with Robin Gibb only after much soul-searching.
In fact, Robin Gibb would have crumbled without her. After all, she had supported him through the deaths of his younger brother Andy – a singer who died in 1988 aged 30 from a heart condition following years of drink and drug abuse – and his twin Maurice in 2003.
Pole axed by his final illness, Robin Gibb was someone who wanted desperately to live.
Despite his previous addiction to amphetamines, he had given up cigarettes, didn’t drink and ate more healthily, though he remained painfully thin.
In his last years, Robin Gibb sweated out toxins for 20 minutes a day in a detoxification hut.
“How does anyone protect themselves against illness?” he asked.
“I only smoked about three cigarettes a day.
“You can have the best lifestyle, do all the right things and still have these things happen to you.
“You get people who drink like a fish, eat rubbish food and they live long into their 90s without any problem.”
As the cancer began to take hold, he spent more and more time in his musical never-neverland with youngest son Robin-John and Dwina.
“I don’t think about the physical world and having a good time,” he said.
“I have a good time creating. The most important thing in life is to be what you want to be.”