June 15, 1941 - January 15, 1994

Nilsson Artistfacts

  • He was born Harry Edward Nilsson III and raised in Bushwick, a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. His father left the family when Nilsson was three years old.
  • While trying to break into the music business, he supported himself by working the night shift at a California bank.
  • He received a $40,000 publishing royalty when the Monkees recorded his "Cuddly Toy," the song that finally earned him attention in the music industry.
  • He became a sensation after The Beatles called him their favorite singer, but that fact didn't always sit well with Nilsson. He told the Record Mirror in 1968: "I've had a lot of publicity out of the fact that the Beatles liked my album [Pandemonium Shadow Show], and named me as their favorite singer. But I didn't really like that. Obviously I was very pleased and very flattered – and now I've got to know John and Paul quite well, and we get on well together. They're both very gentle people. But I wasn't keen on getting all that publicity because of them. It made me feel that I was riding on someone else's back – in other words it was because of them that I was being talked about, and not because of me. But I think the whole thing was blown up a bit out of proportion by the Press."
  • Palling around with the Beatles proved to be a double-edged sword. His career nearly ended when the media accused him of being a bad influence on John Lennon after the two, along with a group of friends, caused a drunken spectacle at a Smothers Brothers show in West Hollywood's Troubadour in 1974. "It ruined my reputation for 10 years. Get one Beatle drunk and look what happens," Nilsson said.
  • Nilsson on songwriting (Record Mirror, 1968): "When I write my songs I do them on many different levels. There may be a message in them, and they may have a point to make – but the important thing, the first thing they should do, is entertain. Before they put across their message, they should be good to listen to – pleasant on the ear. Most people don't want to have their ears pounded with messages – they just want to relax and listen to good sounds. Pop music. But the thing is that the messages are there if they want them – the songs just have to be taken on a different level."
  • He never performed before a live audience during his entire recording career. Shortly before his death, however, he did join Ringo Starr on stage one night during the ex-Beatle's tour.
  • In 1980, he started an ill-fated movie production company called Hawkeye that released the derided Whoopi Goldberg film The Telephone (1988).
  • In 1991, he was forced to file bankruptcy after discovering that his longtime accountant was stealing from him.
  • Struggling with the painful effects of diabetes and surviving a massive heart attack in 1993, Nilsson cleaned up his act and kicked his lifelong drug and alcohol habits. Unfortunately, the damage was done. He died of heart failure in 1994.


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