How sadly apt that one of their most famous songs is Tragedy. Barry
and Robin Gibb - two-thirds of The Bee Gees - have suffered the early
deaths of two of their brothers.
But instead of bringing them together, they are so estranged that they
have not talked to each other for months.
Indeed, nearly three years after the death of Maurice, at the age of 53,
the pair's arguments have reached such a bitter level that they appeared
separately on American TV this week to denounce each other.
While their enmity is ostensibly over a tribute album for Maurice, the
feud really goes back to decades of sibling rivalry and an anger that they
are more famous for their mocked 'medallion men' image than their catalogue of hits.
Adding to their problems is the pair's devastation not only at Maurice's
sudden death in a Miami hospital, when he suffered a heart attack during
operation, but also at the loss of their youngest brother, Andy, who died
aged 30 in 1988 from a heart attack following cocaine addiction.
Unable to grieve together, their differing ways of coping have only
compounded their problems. And while there have been many rows before -
The Bee Gees have
split and got back together more times than Jude and Sienna - this time
they are missing Maurice, who acted as peacemaker between his twin Robin
and their elder
brother, Barry, the driving force behind the band.
The first time fans realised there was a problem was earlier this month,
when Barry, 59, posted an email on his website saying he would not be
involved with the
'Two years ago, at Buckingham Palace, Robin and I discussed with great
enthusiasm a tribute to Maurice,'he wrote. 'We agreed on what was going to
it sounded great. After I left England, Robin decided to form a company
called Magnet Productions to control any tribute and, in so doing,
This is for the benefit of the fans who would like to know why things have
not been good. The Bee Gees are
three people and not one person.'
And on Monday, he went on the U.S. show Entertainment Tonight to
explain why he was not talking to his brother.
'Tragedy does two things. It either fuses you together or it blows the
family apart,' he said. 'I think it's very sad. It wasn't good for our
family to lose Andy
Asked about the tribute album, Barry said: 'I'm not involved. I
have been deliberately dis-involved. People have actually excluded me from
It's personal in my family and I can't go into it, but certain things were
done by the people who look after my brother to stop me being
Three days later, Robin, 55, went on the show to reply to the
accusations. While trying to pacify the situation by saying his brother
had been working on new material,
he turned the blame on Barry, saying he had rebuffed all entreaties to be
involved on the tribute album.
'I can't understand where it comes from,' he said of his brother's
'I have been in touch with Barry and have asked him a few times to be
involved, but he's not been ready, for various reasons, because of
Maurice's death, to go out
there and do as many projects as possible, so he's had to work through
this thing slowly on his own.'
Yesterday, spokesmen for both sides were eager to contain the feud.
'Barry wishes Robin the very best,' said Barry's. 'Robin is still hoping
Barry will be
involved in the tribute album,' said Robin's.
Fans obviously want the pair to patch up their public row before feelings
become even more bitter.
'We don't want to choose between the brothers,' said a fan club member,
who asked not to be named. 'We don't want to see either hurt and we hope
they realise they
have too much to lose to not talk.'
Robin, who lives next door but one to his brother in Miami,
believes the cause of the feud is the grief both are still feeling for
Certainly the brothers have different ways of dealing with their pain.
While Robin is throwing himself into an album and concert for Maurice,
Barry has been concentrating on
other projects, including the recent Guilty Too, a sequel to his hugely
successful 1980 album Guilty, with Barbra Streisand.
But the problems between them are not new. Barry has admitted the pair
have been almost estranged for more than five years.
'I think the group was well-worn. It had become quite tainted over the
years, especially the last decade,' he has said. 'If we'd all been
healthy, especially if Andy had still been with us, we'd be a
Sources close to the pair say that problems set in at the beginning
of their careers, when each of the Gibb brothers tried to outdo each
other in impressing their father.
The story of The Bee Gees starts on the Isle of Wight [Wrong:
Isle of Man], where Barry, Maurice, Robin and their sister Lesley
were born to ambitious bandleader Hughie Gibb.
When Barry was seven, the family moved to Manchester, where Hughie hoped
to find more work, and Andy was born.
The three older boys had a prodigious talent from a young age. By the time
the twins were six and Barry
was nine, they had taught themselves three-part harmony.
They were so good that when he first heard them sing, their father was
convinced they were miming to the radio. He immediately started taking
them to perform
The crowds loved them, but instead of praising his sons, Hughie simply
told them they were lucky to have 'a good audience'. His favouritism of
fostered divisions among the brothers.
Discussing this five years ago, Maurice and Barry acknowledged those
feelings had never dissipated.
'Barry was Dad's favourite,' Maurice said. 'When we were on tour, he'd
always say: "Come on Barry, let's go and eat." He never used to
say that to Robin and
me.' But Barry disagreed, saying he, too, felt left out. 'I never felt
like his favourite. The firstborn was Lesley, who was the daughter, then
me, and then
you had a set of twins, so I was between two worlds. I felt isolated. I
didn't sense I was the favourite.'
When the boys were teenagers, the family moved to Australia, where
Hughie was promised work.
It was there that the brothers, who were by then calling themselves
The Bee Gees (standing for the Brothers Gibb), started notching up hits in
Australian charts. But it was the Sixties and Swinging Britain was the
place to be, so they returned to their homeland.
It was always believed that Andy - the fifth child in the family and 12
years younger than Barry - would one day join The Bee Gees. But, partly
because of the age
difference and partly because of a desire to strike out on his own, he had
a solo career. Barry wrote many of his songs and his brothers often sang
on his singles.
After signing with Robert Stigwood - business partner of Beatles manager
Brian Epstein - The Bee Gees had hits with Massachusetts and I've Gotta
Get A Message
To You, their falsetto voices marking them out from other bands.
From the start, Barry, as the main songwriter and the elder brother, took
a bigger share of the royalties (40 per cent, while the twins got 30
per cent each)
and was the recognised band leader.
Their first break-up happened in 1970. All three had married - Maurice
most famously to the singer Lulu - and had become so competitive they
would argue over
who should be on camera the most during recordings of Top Of The Pops.
In 1977, Stigwood asked them to pen some songs for a film about the disco
culture. It was called Saturday Night Fever. The album relaunched The Bee
30 million and remains the biggest-selling movie soundtrack of all
time.After that success, they split again, but got back together for the
film's sequel Staying Alive in 1983. At the same time, they wrote hits for
a host of stars including Diana Ross, Cliff Richard and Dionne Warwick.
Altogether, The Bee Gees have sold 110 million albums and are the fifth
best-selling act in history. But like so many showbusiness success
stories, their wealth did not appear to bring them happiness.
The brothers were devastated by Andy's death, in particular Maurice,
who by then was an alcoholic. After a four-week brandy binge in 1991, he
his second wife - he and Lulu had divorced - and children with a loaded
pistol. His brothers put him into rehab and he never touched another
As for Barry, he has had a long problem with arthritis, triggered by a car
accident. A failed back operation further complicated the problem.
Meanwhile, Robin had become hooked on amphetamines. His divorce from his
first wife, Molly, was so bitter he did not see his oldest son for six
He has admitted that he and his second wife, Dwina, have an 'open'
When the disco era came to an end, the brothers battled to reinvent
themselves, but the medallion men image has persisted.
Their touchiness over the subject was all too clear when they appeared on
TV's Clive Anderson Talks back in 1997. After one joke too many, Barry,
his brothers, walked out.
Sources close to the band say it was Barry's anger at their outdated
image, as well as the fact he was not recognised by the public as a great
is behind his estrangement from his brothers.
In 2001, he severed ties with lawyer Michael Eaton, who had represented
the group for more than 30 years, and music publisher BMG.
'He thought the band were being mismanaged because they could not shake
off their cheesy image,' said one source. 'He wanted it known that he was
the dominating force.
When he moved to a different management, he thought his brothers would
come with him. The problems started when they refused to follow.' Even
death, Barry's relationship with Robin was so poor that he did not know he
had made his solo album, Magnet, until it was released two years ago. He
said he was 'devastated' to discover Robin had recorded an altered version
of The Bee Gees song Wish You Were Here.
Picking up their OBEs from the Queen in May last year, the -brothers did
appear to be reconciled. They happily revealed their joint plan to bring
album in Maurice's honour and to continue as The Bee Gees.
'The most important thing is that we go forward for Maurice,' Robin said.
'He would want that.'
However, he wouldn't have wanted his brothers to have fallen out -perhaps this time for good- over his tribute album. For their family,
friends and fans, it may be the ultimate tragedy.