Matt Monro, an East London bus driver who perfected his lyrical baritone techniques while serenading his passengers, died Thursday of liver cancer in London.
The popularizer of such hits as "Born Free" and "From Russia With Love" died in London's Cromwell Hospital after a liver transplant operation was deemed useless two weeks ago.
Likened to Perry Como because of his effortless versions of the ballads of the day, Monro, 54, had the speaking voice of a Cockney but phrased like an English troubadour. Although he once had a succession of such hit recordings as "My Kind of Girl," "Portrait of My Love," "Softly, As I Leave You" and "Yesterday," in recent years he had been out of the international arena and his appearances limited to nightclubs and cameos on British television.
Munro admitted in the late 1960s that alcohol had once been a problem but that he had overcome it. He also confessed to being an ongoing nicotine addict.
"I have smoked incessantly since I started at 9 on tea leaves," he had said. "If they're announcing, 'Ladies and Gentlemen--Matt Monro,' I'll light a cigarette because I know we've got two minutes of overture time and I can have a puff."
Monro, who was born Terence Parsons in London's middle-class East End, got his first paying job as a lorry operator. He later graduated to buses. But even as a boy, he told The Times in a 1968 interview when he was appearing in Las Vegas, he had always wanted to sing.
He took those frustrated ambitions out on his passengers who encouraged him, and he soon made his debut in small clubs.
In 1960 he recorded "Portrait of My Love" and followed it with "Walk Away." Both were popular in England and abroad but it was his agent, lyricist Don Black, who made Monro a true international star.
Monro recorded Black's lyrics to "Born Free," the theme from the film about a lioness domesticated by a British couple in Africa, and the song topped charts in Britain, America and Japan.
He also had capitalized on a recording industry oversight. One of The Beatles' most popular tunes, "Yesterday," had not been released as a single and Monro, by then called the "Cockney Como," soon filled that gap with his own version.
Favorite Among Fellow Vocalists
It stayed on Britain's Top 10 for months.
His warm, relaxed interpretations of old and new songs and his gentle phrasing made him a favorite among fellow vocalists.
Frank Sinatra once said that Monro was the only British singer he ever listened to.
Monro's hospitalization and recent illnesses were kept from the public until an exploratory operation Jan. 20 revealed that his cancer had spread too far for a liver transplant to save him.
He is survived by his wife, Mickie, and three children.