Bobby Hatfield, the Orange County boy who grew up to achieve international stardom as half of the legendary singing duo the Righteous Brothers, has died.
Hatfield, 63, died in his sleep Wednesday at a hotel in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he and partner Bill Medley were about to take the stage.
"It's a shock, a real shock," David Cohen, the duo's manager, told Associated Press. Medley, Cohen said, is "broken up. He's not even coherent."
Nicknamed the Blonde Bomber, Hatfield was born in Beaver Dam, Wis., on Aug. 10, 1940. Shortly thereafter, his parents -- who owned a dry-cleaning store -- moved the family to Anaheim. There, between stints at the family business, he began organizing vocal and instrumental groups in high school and, later, at Fullerton Junior College and Long Beach State.
Eventually, Hatfield formed his own band, performing at proms and fraternity dances. It was on that circuit that he met Medley; they teamed up for their first gig in 1962 -- a college prom at which the $40 proceeds were divided five ways. They originally called themselves the Paramours, but Hatfield explained in a 1996 interview how the duo changed its name: "We [were] working in a little club in Orange County, California. On this one particular evening, there were several black Marines in there and when Bill and I finished doing a duet, one of them yelled out, 'That's righteous brothers' ... and there it was."
Over the next few years, the voices of Medley and Hatfield blended together with "such a soaring sense of character and soul that it could only be described as magical," said Times music critic Robert Hilburn. "It's no wonder that master record producer Phil Spector turned to them in 1966 when he wanted to make a record, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin',' that elevated the teen pop drama of his earlier hits to a more mature and ambitious level. The recording remains one of the greatest records ever made and the Righteous Brothers sang it for decades with a passion that is inspiring."
The duo had 10 Top-40 hits in the 1960s, of which "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " and "Unchained Melody" are the best-known. Other hits included "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" and, later, "Rock and Roll Heaven." Earlier, after graduating from Santa Ana High School, the pair had scored several regional hits, including "Little Latin Lupe Lu," "Koko Joe" and a reworking of a '50s hit by the L.A.-based duo Don & Dewey called "Justine." The pair even became regulars on the 1960s TV music series "Shindig," set apart from most of their peers by their starched shirts, ties and suits with collarless jackets.
"Right now, the big new sound is blue-eyed soul," Life Magazine wrote in 1966, "a white man's version of Negro soul music, invented by an inventive dynamic duo called the Righteous Brothers...."
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. "I had pretty much given up hope," Hatfield said at the time. "I'm just thrilled that I'm still around to accept it in person. I really didn't want to have to send a videotaped acceptance speech after I was gone."
Hatfield and Medley split up in the late '60s, but in recent years had reunited frequently for concerts, tours and gigs in Las Vegas.
When Hatfield's wife, Linda, was diagnosed with lupus, Hatfield became an active fund-raiser for the Lupus Foundation of America, offering many concerts for that cause.
He and Medley were in Kalamazoo this week to start a tour that would have taken them to, among other places, the Grove of Anaheim next week.
About 7 p.m. Eastern time, 30 minutes before the two were set to take the stage at the Miller Auditorium on the Western Michigan University campus, police found him dead in his bed at the Radisson Hotel.
No cause of death has been determined.
Fans at the auditorium were told that the concert was canceled due to an emergency.
Times staff writer Randy Lewis contributed to this report.