As 2020 comes to a close, we remember and honor Eurovision stars, writers, and producers who passed away this year. Stars whose participation and performances provided so much joy to Eurovision fans at the contest and beyond.
Due to the large amount of Eurovision notables who passed away this year, we had to split this article into two parts. Part One was published on December 28, 2020.
In no particular order, here is the second part of the list of notable Eurovision stars we lost in 2020.
Dominic Smith – United Kingdom – Assistant Head and Head of Delegation, 1998 – 2005
Dominic Smith, the former Head of Delegation passed away on November 5, 2020. His first job for the BBC was as Assistant Head of Delegation for the United Kingdom at Eurovision 1998, which the BBC hosted that year in Birmingham. He produced A Song for Europe and created Making Your Mind Up as the UK’s national selection in 2004 alongside Simon Procter.
As Procter told eurovoix.com, Smith not only produced content for the show itself and for the national selection, he was also greatly expanded programming to include more preview shows including the “Liquid Eurovision Party” and securing preview shows for Eurovision 2002 through 2005.
Reynaert (Joseph Reynaerts) – Belgium – 1988
Born July 24, 1955, Reynaert took an unusual and Michael Rice-esque path to success: busking. Success came when he won a contest in Spa, Belgium with “Cerf-volant” (“Kite”) in 1978. A series of singles led to a debut album in 1984, and in 1988 he won Belgium’s national selection of 1988 with “Laissez briller le soleil” (“Let the sun shine”).
Reynaert came in 18th at Eurovision 1988 with his French language ballad about letting the sun shine on those less fortunate than yourself.
After Eurovision, Reynaert taught and was a director at the Centre Culturel de Soumagne, Belgium, until his untimely passing on November 5, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19.
Rajko Dujmić – Yugoslavia – 1987 – 1989
There is an ardent fanbase in the ESC fan community that adores what Yugoslavia produced in the late 1980s up until their 1989 winner Riva’s “Rock Me,” and it was with much sadness when we learned the man behind the last three Yugoslav entries of the 1980s passed away after a car crash on August 4, 2020.
Born August 7, 1954, in Zagreb, Croatia, Dujmić first came to fame in 1976 when he joined famed rock band Novi fosili. His composition “Dirindonda” became a smash hit in Yugoslavia, and throughout the 1980s they continued to rack up charting singles and albums.
In what was a very competitive year, Novi fosili entered Eurovision 1987 and emerged with a credible 4th place with their cult classic “Ja sam za ples” (“I am up for dancing”), which Dujmić composed with lyrics by Stevo Cvikić.
Dujmić and Cvikić teamed up again for Eurovision 1988, this time writing “Mangup” for fellow Yugoslav pop rockers Srebrna Krila. Though “Mangup” was performed 21st and last on the night, it ended up in a very respectable 6th place.
Dujmić and Cvikić were once again responsible for Yugoslavia’s Eurovision entry in 1989, and this time struck gold with Riva’s “Rock me.”
Though Novo fosili broke up just after the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself, Dujmić remained an active singer, songwriter and producer in Croatia.
Ricky Valance – United Kingdom – A Song for Europe 1961
Ricky Valance holds the honor of being the very first Welshman to have a Number One single on the UK Singles Charts when “Tell Laura I Love Her” hit that spot in September 1960 (Shirley Bassey beat him as first Welsh person overall when her “As I Love You” hit Number One in February 1959).
Unfortunately, that would be Valance’s only charting single in the United Kingdom, though his success in the 1960s in Scandinavia and Australia, in particular, steers him away from the dreaded one hit wonder tag.
Born April 10, 1936 in Ynysddu, Monmouthshire, Valance also entered A Song for Europe 1961 with “Why Can’t We”,” coming in 3rd to eventual UK representatives The Allisons and “Are You Sure?”
Valance continued to work afterwards, joining Irish band The Chessmen in 1967, but also moving to places like Nashville and Spain to prolong his career. He retired with his wife to Skegness, Lincolnshire in 2015, but unfortunately faced a long battle with dementia, passing away on June 12, 2020.
Krunoslav Kićo Slabinac – Yugoslavia – 1971
Born March 28, 1944 in Osijek, Croatia, Krunoslav Kićo Slabinac started early as a singer and tamburica player in bands in the 1960s before deciding to go solo and move to Zagreb. Straddling both modern Slavic pop and traditional folk music, Slabinac got noticed and was selected to represent Yugoslavia at Eurovision 1971.
“Tvoj dječak je tužan” (“Your boy is sad”) ultimately came in 14th, but the contest gave his career a jolt at home landing many chart topping hits such as “Letaj mi” in 1989. Slabinac’s output continued for decades, though leaning more and more into folk music as the years went by.
He passed away on November 13, 2020, after a prolonged and unspecified illness.
Tadej Hrušovar – Yugoslavia – 1975
Born on June 5, 1947, in Celje, Slovenia, Hrušovar’s fame kicked off in 1967 when he joined folk ensemble Bela Vrane. Despite a few hits and local fame, Bela Vrane disbanded in 1974, and he formed a new band called Pepel in Kri (Ash and Blood). They hit the ground running, representing Yugoslavia at Eurovision 1975 with their very first single, “Dan Ljubezni” (“Day of Love”).
Composed by Hrušovar and lyricist Dusan Velkaverh, “Dan ljubezni” only came in 13th at Eurovision 1975, but it is one of those entries that catches fire elsewhere. A massive summer hit in Yugoslavia, particularly in Slovenia, it holds to this day the record for best selling single in Slovenian music history.
His place in the Slovenian pop stratosphere secured, Hrušovar would go on to compose more than 400 songs for himself, his bands, and for other artists.
He eventually moved over to the production side, become a TV producer for RTV Slovenia right after Yugoslavia’s dissolution. But he also had a career as a lawyer, working for the Institute for International Cooperation.
Unfortunately, Hrušovar passed away due to complications from COVID-19 on December 5, 2020.
Esteban Santos – Spain – 1984
As well as sporting a glorious mustache, Esteban Santos and the band Bravo landed a plum 3rd place for Spain at Eurovision 1984, the nation’s 7th best ever performance at the contest (after two victories and four second places).
Born in Tolosa, Spain, in 1951, Santos was both a guitarist and a percussionist and met pianist Luis Villar at university. Adding Amaya Saizar and Yolanda Hoyos, they formed Bravo in 1982 and then dazzled ESC fans with “Lady, Lady.” The song gained international recognition, even landing a Number One spot on the German singles chart.
However, Santos’s time in the music industry came to an end in 1986, when after much touring and more singles, Bravo called it quits and Santos embarked on a career in medicine.
It was Saizar herself who told the world on November 2, 2020 that Santos had passed away for reasons Saizar wished to keep private.
Del Newman – Italy – 1980
Born to a West Indian father and an Irish mother, Del Newman was born in London, and learned the piano and violoncello. After a stint in the Royal Navy, Newman received tutoring from famous British composer Elisabeth Lutyens and Hungarian composer Antal Dorati.
That tutelage and experience helped pave Newman’s career as a composer and conductor beginning in 1968 with providing string arrangements for some of classic rock’s biggest names including Cat Stevens, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings (“Live and Let Die” being a highlight).
Alan Sorrenti sought his services as conductor at Eurovision 1980 for his self-penned entry “Non so che darei” (“I don’t know what to give”), which came in 6th.
Newman continued to conduct and also moved into movie soundtracks, but retired in the 1990s to focus on teaching. His contribution to British music was recognized with a Gold medal from the Ivors Academy in 2015.
Newman passed away on August 10, 2020.
Larry Gogan – Ireland – Radio and television commentator 1978 – 2001, 2011
Louis Walsh referred to Larry Gogan as “one of the kings of Irish broadcasting,” and many other titans of Ireland’s music scene (such as U2’s Larry Mullen and Imelda May) paid tribute to the Irish DJ, radio and television commentator Larry Gogan upon hearing of his passing on January 7, 2020.
Gogan served as Irish broadcaster RTÉ’s radio commentator from 1984 to 2001, and again in 2008. He also served on the Irish Eurovision delegation until 2011. He also was RTÉ’s television commentator for Eurovision 1978, 1980, 1981, and 1982.
Born Lorcan Gogan on May 6, 1934, Gogan got into Irish radio after finishing school and trying out acting in the late 1950s. After being inspired to get into music after listening to Radio Luxembourg, the only station that played pop music that could be heard in Ireland, he pursued a career as a DJ. He quickly earned himself a slot as one of the few DJs in Ireland playing pop music in 1961, and was the very first DJ to spin a record for the launch of RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979. Gogan stayed with RTÉ Radio 2 (and the RTÉ 2fm that it morphed into) for 40 years, with his very last show on January 31, 2019.
Mojmir Sepe – Yugoslavia – 1966, 1970
Born July 11, 1930, Mojmir Sepe studied piano and trumpet at the Ljubljana Academy of Music. In the 1950s, Sepe began to get work composing and performing jazz works, most notably with poets Frane Milčinski Ježek, Gregor Strniša, Branko Šomen, Miroslav Košuta, and Ivan Minatti.
It is with lyricist Elza Budau that Sepe wrote the Slovene language “Brez besed,” Yugoslavia’s entry for Eurovision 1966 performed by Berta Ambroz, which came in 7th place. There was controversy in 1973 when Spain’s 2nd place “Eres tu” was accused of plagiarizing “Brez besed,” but Sepe never followed up or filed a copyright lawsuit against “Eres tu” composer Jose Carlos Calderon.
Sepe took another tilt at Eurovision in 1970, this time teaming up with Dušan Velkaverh on Eva Srsen’s “Pridi, dala ti bom cvet” (“Come closer, I’ll give you a flower”), which came in 11th.
Sepe passed away on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020 at the age of 90.
(Thanks to Instagram follower eurovisionmytops for alerting us.)
Geoff Stephens – United Kingdom – 1970
Grammy Award winning songwriter Geoff Stephens passed away at age 86 in his home on December 24, 2020.
His family informed Variety that “Dad survived Covid-19 in the spring but passed away with my Mum, his wife of 63 years, by his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia.”
Stephens co-wrote “Knock, Knock Who’s There?” with frequent collaborator John Carter as the song for Mark Hopkin, who represented the United Kingdom and came in second place at Eurovision 1970.
Born in North London, on October 1, 1934, Stephens dabbled in musical theater before teaming up with Les Reed to write “Tell Me When,” a Top 10 hit for the Applejacks in 1964. In 1965, Stephens wrote “The Crying Game,” a huge hit for Dave Berry which also achieved hit status in 1991 when Boy George covered the song for the soundtrack of the Neil Jordan film of the same name.
In 1966 Stephens won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Record with New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral,” which also hit Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Additional hits include hit songs with other Eurovision alumni such as Dana and The New Seekers with “It’s Gonna be a Cold Cold Christmas” and “You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me,” respectively.
Are there any other artists #YOU want to see mentioned that we missed in this two part series? Do #YOU have any fond memories of the artists listed above? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.