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Gene Pitney, 65; his tunes compile a '60s hit playlist

LONDON -- Connecticut native Gene Pitney, whose keening tenor voice produced a string of hits including ''Town Without Pity," was found dead in his hotel room in Wales yesterday following a concert that fans and critics acclaimed as one of his best. He was 65.

Mr. Pitney apparently died of natural causes, police said. He was staying in a hotel in Cardiff, where he had played a concert Tuesday night during a tour in Britain.

''Last night was one of the best performances, not vocally, but from the enthusiasm. He just wanted to please -- and he did," said Wendy Horton, who reviewed Tuesday night's concert for the South Wales Echo newspaper.

Another reviewer, Nigel Corten, said Mr. Pitney appeared to be healthy during the performance.

''It came through in his voice because he really let it rip. If you are ill, that would be one of the first things to show it," he said. ''The audience [was] in raptures."

During a long career, Mr. Pitney had hits as a singer -- ''24 Hours from Tulsa," ''(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," and ''Half Heaven, Half Heartache." As a writer, he penned ''Hello Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson and ''Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee.

In 1962, Mr. Pitney had the top two songs on the US chart -- his rendition of Burt Bacharach's and Hal David's ''Only Love Can Break a Heart" was at No. 2, just behind a song he wrote for The Crystals, ''He's a Rebel."

''He was a rare talent and a beautiful man, and his voice was unlike any other. I have great memories of working in the studio recording with Gene," Bacharach said in a statement.

Mr. Pitney also had some success as a country singer, pairing with George Jones to record ''I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night" and ''Louisiana Man."

Mr. Pitney became friendly with the Rolling Stones and his endorsement of the British rock group in the United States is credited with helping them break through there. Stones stars Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote ''That Girl Belongs to Yesterday," which was a hit for Mr. Pitney on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Pitney had 16 top 40 songs in the United States from 1961 to 1968 and 40 hit songs in Britain.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Mr. Pitney was born in Hartford and grew up in the Rockville section of Vernon. He married his Rockville High School sweetheart, Lynne, in 1967, and they brought up three sons in Somers.

While still in high school, Mr. Pitney formed a band called Gene and the Genials. A member of the Genials, Robert Terry, told the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Conn., that he was struck by the way Mr. Pitney demanded excellence from himself while on stage. ''He never let up on getting it right, and the people who worked with him knew this," Terry said.

Mr. Pitney said he wrote many of his best songs, including ''Hello, Mary Lou," in his candy-apple red 1935 Ford coupe, parked near a Rockville reservoir.

Material from Reuters was used in this obituary.

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