Steve Harley, frontman of Cockney Rebel, has died

By John Mercury March 18, 2024

Steve Harley, best known for being the frontman of the rock group Cockney Rebel, has died at the age of 73.

The English singer and songwriter, best known for the 1970s hit Make Me Smile, was receiving treatment for cancer.

“We are devastated to announce that our wonderful husband, father and grandfather, has passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side,” his wife, Dorothy, and children, Kerr and Greta said in a statement.

Undated handout photo issued by That Was Then...This Is Now of Steve Harley performing as part of the new show, an online on demand TV music show featuring performances and Q&As with various artists.
Pic: PA

“The birdsong from his woodland that he loved so much was singing for him. His home has been filled with the sounds and laughter of his four beloved grandchildren.

“Stephen. Steve. Dad. Grandar. Steve Harley. Whoever you know him as, his heart exuded only core elements. Passion, kindness, generosity, and much more, in abundance.

“Steve took enormous comfort from all of his fans’ well wishes during his battle, and we know he would want to thank you all deeply for your love and support throughout his career, and during his battle to the end.”

Harley’s family said they knew the singer would be “desperately missed by countless friends, family and devoted fans all over the world”.

Sir Rod Stewart said he was “absolutely devastated” as he paid tribute to the musician, who he had “loved” and “admired”.

Harley helped to write a number of songs for Sir Rod, who covered Harley’s song, A Friend For Life, on his 2015 studio album Another Country.

Along with Make Me Smile, which went to number one in the UK charts in 1975, Cockney Rebel’s hits include Here Comes The Sun, Mr Raffles (Man, It Was Mean), Love’s A Prima Donna and Judy Teen.

Earlier this year, Harley was forced to say he could not commit to any concerts in 2024 due to ill health.

He had previously cancelled shows scheduled for spring and autumn of this year.

In a Facebook post in December, when announcing his cancer diagnosis, he said cancelling the shows were “heartbreaking” and gave an update on his treatment.

Pop Singer And Writer Steve Harley Steve Harley (born Stephen Malcolm Ronald Nice 27 February 1951 Deptford London England) Is An English Singer And Songwriter Best Known For His Work With The 1970s Rock Group Cockney Rebel With Whom He Still Occasionally Tours (albeit With Many Personnel Changes Through The Years).

24 Jun 1974    Photographer
David Stevens/ANL/Shutterstock
Steve Harley in 1974. Pic: David Stevens/ANL/Shutterstock

He also thanked fans for their support and “touching messages”, adding: “It means more than I can tell.”

Scottish musician Midge Ure hailed Harley as a “true ‘working musician'” in a tribute this afternoon.

Ure, who produced Harley’s 1982 track I Can’t Even Touch You, said in a social media post: “Steve Harley was a true ‘working musician’.

“He toured until he could tour no more, playing his songs for fans old and new.

“My thoughts go out to Dorothy and his family at this very sad time. Our songs live on longer than we ever can.”

Lead singer of Culture Club, Boy George, said he cried following Harley’s death.

“Amazing songwriter. One of my heroes,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

File photo dated 17/11/16 of Cockney Rebel's Steve Harley during a recording of a charity single for the Jo Cox Foundation at the Backstage Centre in Purfleet, Essex. Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley has died peacefully at home at the age of 73, his family has announced. Issue date: Sunday March 17, 2024.
Steve Harley in 2016 during a recording of a charity single for the Jo Cox Foundation. Pic: PA

Duran Duran bassist John Taylor thanked Harley for the music and “good vibes”. The band covered Cockney Rebel’s most famous song, Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) and Taylor said they were “so lucky” to have Harley guest with them.

“The moment Steve entered was truly chilling, and I still remember it today. An amazing moment.”

TV presenter Lorraine Kelly also said she “loved his music” and recalled watching the band as a teenager as she paid tribute.

Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Mike Batt, who worked with Harley on several songs, described the musician as a “dear pal” and “lovely guy”.

The pair worked together on tracks including Ballerina (Prima Donna) released in 1983 and were joined by Yes lead singer Jon Anderson for the 1988 charity single Whatever You Believe.

“Oh no! My dear pal, Steve Harley has died,” Batt posted on X.

“I just found out on Twitter. I was just writing about him yesterday in my autobiography.

“What a talent. What a character. What a lovely guy. My condolences to Dorothy and all. RIP, mate.”

Born in southeast London in 1951, he spent almost four years in hospital as a child after contracting polio.

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He joined the Daily Express as a trainee accountant aged 17 before working as a journalist for several regional newspapers including the East London Advertiser.

Paul Henderson, former editor of the Sunday Mirror who worked with him during this time, described him as a “great musician” and a “deep-thinking, compassionate man who wanted the best for his family and friends”.

Cockney Rebel began in the early 1970s in London after Harley spent several years performing at folk clubs in the city.

The band – after undergoing several line-up changes – released their debut studio album, The Human Menagerie, in 1973 and followed it up with 1994’s The Psychomodo which went to number eight in the UK charts.

File photo dated 26/02/75 of Steve Harley (centre) and Cockney Rebel, when they were top of the best selling pop charts with "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)", at London's Heathrow airport on their arrival from America and two-week tour of one-night stands. Cockney Rebel frontman Steve Harley has died peacefully at home at the age of 73, his family has announced. Issue date: Sunday March 17, 2024.
Steve Harley (centre) and Cockney Rebel in 1975. Pic: PA

The band regrouped and changed its name to Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and it was under this moniker they released a string of albums including 1975’s The Best Years Of Our Lives, which peaked at number four.

Their biggest hit Make Me Smile has sold around 1.5 million copies and has been covered more than 120 times, including by Robbie Williams and Duran Duran, according to the Official Charts, as well as being featured in films including The Full Monty.

Harley also enjoyed a solo career from 1977 onwards and wrote for other artists, including his friend Sir Rod Stewart.

He went on to present the BBC Radio 2 show Sounds Of The 70s from 1999 to 2008.

Helen Thomas, head of BBC Radio 2, said: “All of us at Radio 2 are saddened to hear of the passing of former Sounds Of The 70s presenter, Steve Harley. We send our condolences to his family and our presenters are paying tribute to him on air.”


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