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Music

Cockney Rebel Singer Steve Harley, Who Had a Hit with ‘Make Me Smile,’ Dies at 73

LONDON  — Steve Harley, a British musician whose glam-rock band Cockney Rebel had an enduring hit with the song “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me),” has died. He was 73.

Harley’s family said Sunday that he had “passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side.” Harley said late last year he was being treated for “a nasty cancer.”

Born in London in 1951, Harley spent almost four years of his childhood hospitalized after contracting polio, periods during which he began reading and writing poetry. He worked as a trainee accountant and as journalist on local newspapers, and began his performing career at London folk clubs.

He formed Cockney Rebel, which released a debut album, “The Human Menagerie,” in 1973 before foundering over creative differences. With a new lineup and rebranded as Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, the band released the 1975 album “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which contained Harley’s biggest hit.

Cockney Rebel’s Steve Harley during a recording of a charity single for the Jo Cox Foundation at the Backstage Centre in Purfleet, England, Nov. 17, 2016. British musician Steve Harley, whose band Cockney Rebel had a huge hit with the song “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me),” has died. He was 73. Harley’s family said Sunday March 17, 2024 he had “passed away peacefully at home, with his family by his side.” (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

With its barbed lyrics – aimed at Harley’s former bandmates — and infectiously catchy chorus, the Alan Parsons-produced “Make Me Smile” topped the U.K. singles chart. It went on to be covered scores of times and was used on countless soundtracks, including in the 1997 film “The Full Monty” and in ads for Carlsberg beer, department store Marks and Spencer and Viagra.

Harley also sang the title song of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Phantom of the Opera” alongside Sarah Brightman when it was released as a single in 1986. He was originally cast in the title role for the stage musical, but was replaced by Michael Crawford.

Ultravox frontman Midge Ure, who produced Harley’s 1982 track “I Can’t Even Touch You,” called him a “true ‘working musician.’”

“He toured until he could tour no more, playing his songs for fans old and new,” Ure wrote on social media. “My thoughts go out to Dorothy and his family at this very sad time. Our songs live on longer than we ever can.”

Harley is survived by his wife Dorothy, children Kerr and Greta and four grandchildren. The family said in a statement that they knew he would be “desperately missed by people all over the world.”

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