Karel Gott: Czech singer dubbed 'Sinatra of the East' dies

media captionKarel Gott (r) sang the national anthem to protesters during the Velvet Revolution in 1989 (video: Česká televize)

A Czech singer who sold millions of records and was known as the "Sinatra of the East" has died aged 80.

Karel Gott released almost 300 albums, starting in the mid-1960s, selling tens of millions of copies around the world.

Gott was popular behind the Iron Curtain and became known as the "golden voice of Prague", but he also found fame in Western Europe, especially in Germany.

He died late on Tuesday after a long and serious illness, his wife said.

Gott announced last month he had acute leukaemia.

He released his last album in 2018 and was still popular in Germany, Russia and the US, as well as at home where he was seen as the king of Czech pop music.

image copyrightReuters
image captionGott picked up tips from Sinatra's singing style while living in Las Vegas in 1967

His working life began as an electrician in Prague before he was discovered as a singer in the city's dance cafes.

During the communist era, he performed at home and abroad, including in the West, which was uncommon for Czech musicians.

He sang in a variety of languages besides his native Czech, including Russian, English, German and Italian, moving to Las Vegas in 1967 where he picked up tips from Frank Sinatra.

Following the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Prague, Gott continued to remain popular, despite many singers being banned from the stage for political reasons.

image copyrightReuters
image captionIn his native Czech Republic he was known as the "golden voice of Prague"

The same year, he represented Austria in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing the song Thousands of Windows.

No-one knows how many records he sold, but the number is well above 30 million. His 1977 album Karel Gott sold 4.5 million copies alone in the Soviet Union. He also appeared in 30 films, usually playing himself, Tass news agency reported.

He was renowned in Germany for singing the title song of an animated cartoon TV series Biene Maja (Maja the Bee) and he sang a German cover version of Lara's Theme from the hit film Doctor Zhivago.

In his six-decade career, he was voted the most popular Czech singer 42 times in an annual poll.

Czech President Milos Zeman said the singer's death was "extremely sad news for our whole country."

Flags flew at half-mast on Wednesday and the government said he would have a state funeral.

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