Music legend Ray Columbus leaves a legacy of talent, toil and good times

Kiwi music legend Ray Columbus passed away at his home north of Auckland yesterday, aged 74, after a four-year battle with ill health.

The singer will go down in history as the first Kiwi to record an international No. 1 single when his band Ray Columbus and The Invaders' hit She's A Mod topped charts both sides of the Tasman in 1964.

In his diverse career, spanning more than half a century, Columbus was involved in every aspect of New Zealand entertainment.

He was a regular on television fronting the enormously popular That's Country, a singer, bandleader, music manager, soloist and talented songwriter, winning almost every award the music industry could bestow.

His contribution to music and show business was recognised when he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1974 - the first pop star in the Commonwealth to be so acknowledged.

Born in Christchurch in 1942, Columbus was first steered into tap dancing by his family.

However, his heart was soon won over by rock n roll, after he saw films like Rebel Without a Cause and Blackboard Jungle whilst selling ice-creams at the Avon Theatre.

At 14 he formed his first band.

In December 1962, Columbus and the Invaders arrived in Auckland at a time when the club scene was booming. The band was tight and he was an engaging and charismatic frontman.

They toured Australasia relentlessly, played with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and Roy Orbison and continued to record - their other big hit 'Till We Kissed sold upward of 50,000 copies and won the inaugural Loxene Gold Disc award in 1965.

But, after two hectic years, the Invaders fell apart.

Columbus moved to the United States for two years in 1966.

Ray Columbus with his band. Photo / Indium Design
Ray Columbus with his band. Photo / Indium Design

During that heady era when he was in San Francisco he avoided the temptation of readily available drugs: "I knew from my addiction to cigarettes that I should never try any other kind of drug. I knew I wouldn't be able to stop taking it. I smoked 80 a day."

He would later say that smoking led to his 2004 heart attack.

Columbus also suffered strokes in 2008 and 2012. In 2014, he was terminally ill with an immune-deficiency problem believed to be caused by heavy medication he was taking.

In 2009, Columbus and the Invaders were presented with the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award at the annual Music Awards and inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

Tributes have flowed for the music icon who many said paved the way for New Zealand musicians today.

Ray Columbus in his home at Snells Beach, north of Auckland, in March this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ray Columbus in his home at Snells Beach, north of Auckland, in March this year. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Dave Dobbyn told the Herald it was sad to hear of Columbus' passing.

"He was a great guy and full of energy. He and The Invaders certainly blazed a trail, and our own pop music was better for it. Goodbye Mr Ray Columbus, I'll see you at that heavenly gig."

Good friend and singer Suzanne Lynch said Columbus, who was her mentor and manager, was like a big brother.

"He was a great mentor to so many New Zealand musicians and artists. It's a sad day for me. He was such a positive energy to have around."

Columbus leaves behind his wife Linda, two children, six grandchildren and a great grandchild.

- NZ Herald

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