AMSTERDAM – Bobby Farrell, whose group Boney M topped the 1970s European charts with its glittering showmanship and blend of disco and Calypso music, was found dead in his hotel bed Thursday while on tour in Russia, his agent said. He was 61.
The frontman appeared as scheduled in St. Petersburg Wednesday night, but complained of breathing problems before and after his show, said the agent, John Seine.
The group had 38 top 10 hits, including 15 number ones in Germany. They included "Brown Girl in the Ring" and "Mary's Boychild." Their version of "By the Rivers of Babylon" sold nearly 2 million records in Britain alone, keeping it No. 1 for five weeks in 1978.
The same year, Boney M became the first Western music group invited by a Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, to perform in the Soviet Union. A Soviet military plane flew the performers from London to Moscow, where they sang for an audience of 2,700 Russians in Red Square.
Alphonso "Bobby" Farrell left his home on the Caribbean island of Aruba at 15 to work as a sailor, then drifted to Norway and Germany to pursue a career as a DJ, according to his official biography.
He was chosen in 1974 to front Boney M, put together by German singer and songwriter Frank Farian, who did much of the recorded singing while Farrell was more a dancer and showman.
The band, based in Germany, broke into the charts with "Daddy Cool" and "Sunny" in 1976.
The original group of Farrell and three women broke up in 1986 and Farrell, who lived in Amsterdam, continued on his own or with various female back-up singers, maintaining his flamboyant style and flashy costumes. In recent years he toured under the name Bobby Farrell's Boney M.
Seine said the cause of death was not known, but Farrell had suffered health problems off-and-on for 10 years. He said he was found by hotel staff after he failed to respond to a wake-up call.
He had been due to fly to Rome Thursday for a television show.