Robert Palmer, the well-tailored British rock singer who created one of the first iconic music videos with the look-alike models of “Addicted to Love,” has died of a heart attack. He was 54.
A two-time Grammy winner in the 1980s, the star behind the hit “Simply Irresistible” died of a heart attack Friday at a Paris hotel during a stopover after a promotional tour in Britain, manager Mick Cater said.
Sporting designer suits and a thick mane of hair, Palmer shot to fame in the mid-’80s with two videos featuring a “backup band” of dark-haired women in black miniskirts strumming guitars. They were directed by Terence Donovan, a prominent British fashion and society photographer who died in 1996 at age 60.
Other Palmer hits in his three-decade career included “Bad Case of Lovin’ You (Doctor, Doctor),” “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” and “Some Like It Hot.”
“I don’t think he was hugely influential to me musically, but he did something odd and unique,” Bob Geldof, of the former Irish pop band Boomtown Rats, said in London. “You can visualize him singing with six babes in dresses.”
Palmer died at the Warwick Hotel, just off the Champs-Elysees, after a relaxed night of dinner and a movie with Mary Ambrose, his longtime partner, Cater said. Palmer had received a clean bill of health in a medical checkup about two weeks ago, Cater said.
An autopsy confirmed Palmer died of a heart attack, Paris judicial officials said.
Born Robert Allen Palmer in Batley, England, in 1949, the singer spent much of his childhood in Malta, where his father was an officer in the British Navy.
Palmer, whose artistic influences included Lena Horne and Nat King Cole, released his first hit album and single, “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley,” in 1974. He was said to be among the first musicians of his era to experiment with reggae, electronic sound and international folk.
In his 20s, Palmer worked with a number of small-time bands including Dada, Vinegar Joe, and the Alan Bown Band, occasionally appearing in opening acts for big draws including The Who and Jimi Hendrix. His solo breakthrough came in 1978, with the easy-listening tune “Every Kinda People.”
Palmer returned to broad public view in 1985 in Power Station alongside John and Andy Taylor of ’80s supergroup Duran Duran. Power Station scored three U.S. Top 10 hits, including “Communication” and “Get it On.”
Andy Taylor said he was “shattered” by Palmer’s death.
“He was just one of the greatest British acts and a really close friend,” Andy Taylor told Britain’s ITV News Channel. “There’s a few people you meet in life who really touch you… Robert was one of them.”
Palmer hit the cresting wave of 1980s rock videos at just the right time.
In 1986, he vaulted to superstar status with the Grammy-winning “Addicted to Love,” which became one of MTV’s most-played clips. The video drew criticism from some feminists for the miniskirted models.
“I’m not going to attach inappropriate significance to (the video) because at the time it meant nothing,” Palmer once said. “It’s just happened to become an iconic look.”
Two years later, the throbbing hit “Simply Irresistible” rose to No. 2 on the U.S. charts and earned Palmer another Grammy, again accompanied by a slick video featuring a sharply dressed Palmer and a bevy of attractive women.
The dapper Briton was christened “Best Dressed Male Artist” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1990.
While acknowledging that his passion was for music more than rock stardom, Palmer clearly enjoyed the spotlight and said his fame was “a nice accident.”
“I’m not somebody who started in a garage six months ago and MTV put me up there,” he told People magazine in the mid-’80s, savoring his slow rise. “This is much more delicious. It almost feels like I’m getting away with something.”
Palmer, who lived in Lugano, Switzerland, is survived by Ambrose, his partner of 20 years, his parents, and two children, Jim and Jane. A private ceremony was scheduled for next week in Switzerland.