Roger Whittaker, ‘The Last Farewell,’ ‘Durham Town’ singer, dead at 87

Roger Whittaker, a British folk singer noted for the hits “The Last Farewell” and “Durham Town,” died Sept. 13. He was 87.

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Whittaker’s death was announced on his website. He died in a hospital near Toulouse, France, The New York Times reported. His longtime publicist, Howard Elson, said the cause of death was “complications following a long illness,” according to the newspaper.

“It is with great sadness that we share that our beloved Roger Whittaker passed away on the 13th. September 2023 he left us in peace in the presence of his family,” Whittker’s family wrote in a statement on his website. “During this difficult time we would like to thank everyone for their support and compassion. Roger was an iconic artist, a wonderful husband and father. He touched so many hearts with his music during his lifetime and will always live on in our memories.

“Roger will be greatly missed, his legacy will forever live on in our hearts and in his art.”

Whittaker was born in Nairobi, Kenya, to English parents on March 22, 1936, Billboard reported. His grandfather had been a club singer in England, and his father, a grocer who played the violin, was disabled in a motorcycle crash and moved his family to Kenya for the warm climate, according to the Times.

In 1969, Whittaker released “Durham Town (The Leavin’)” and the song peaked at No. 23 on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart.

“I just didn’t have any faith in that song at all,” Whittaker reportedly said, according to The Guardian. “Far from promoting the single in Britain, I went off to Finland for a cabaret season and television appearances.”

Other songs charting in the adult contemporary genre were “New World in the Morning” (No. 12) and “I Don’t Believe in If Anymore” (No. 10), according to Billboard.

“The Last Farewell,” the 1971 song that became Whittaker’s most successful single, was No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart, and at No. 19, was his only hit to chart in Billboard’s Hot 100.

Whittaker sold approximately 60 million albums worldwide, the Times reported. “The Last Farewell and Other Hits” reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 11 countries and sold 11 million copies, according to the newspaper.

Whittaker’s parents were attacked in 1989 during a home invasion in Kenya, the Times reported. His mother was tortured for eight hours and his father was killed immediately. The killers were never caught, and his mother moved back to the United Kingdom.

“It will affect me for the rest of my life,” Whittaker told reporters. “But I believe we should all live without hate if we can.”

Whittaker had a strong group of fans in the U.S., where he was best known for “I Don’t Believe in ‘If’ Anymore” (1970), the Times reported. Other favorites included a version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” (1982); and “New World in the Morning” (1971).

Whittaker retired in 2012, according to The Guardian. He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Natalie; and their five children: Emily, Lauren, Jessica, Guy, and Alexander.

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