Billy Fury (1940-1983)
Portrait of Billy Fury used on the front cover of Pop Weekly in the early 1960s. Photo copyright Chris Eley.
Britain's own Elvis Presley
Billy Fury was born Ronald Wycherley in Haliburton Street in The Dingle, Liverpool on 17 April 1940. He found fame in the early sixties with a string of hits, including, 'Halfway To Paradise', 'Jealousy' and 'Like I've Never Been Gone'. He is one of the most famous stars in the history of British Rock and Roll.
When Ronald left Wellington Road Secondary Modern School aged 15, his father got him a job in an engineering factory and later as a deck hand on the Mersey tug boats. But music was always in his life, he taught himself to play the guitar that his parents had bought as a birthday present and was writing songs from a young age. His mother said he was "a quiet boy, who seldom goes out and is devoted to his music."
In 1958 Ronald travelled to the Essoldo Theatre in Birkenhead to meet London music agent Larry Parnes. Parnes had agreed to audition him back stage, during one of his 'extravaganza' nights. What supposedly happened that evening is almost legendary. It is thought that Parnes was so impressed with Ronald that he immediately added his act to the bill and the 18 year old made his public singing debut in front of an audience of screaming girls. Parnes felt that Ronald needed a stage name more in keeping with other acts in his 'stable', who included local stars such as Marty Wilde, Johnny Gentle and Dickie Pride. After some argument Ronald Wycherley became Billy Fury.
Billy was blessed with good looks, a great voice and a stage presence that was a mix of sexual rebel and vulnerable little boy. Women of all ages loved him and his famous hip-swivelling act. He quickly became a star. His total record sales were on a par with acts such as, Elvis, The Beatles and Cliff Richard. Although he had 29 hit records, 11 of which were top ten hits, and he spent almost 300 weeks in the record charts, Billy never had a number 1 hit. The nearest he got was with 'Jealousy' which reached number 2 in the early 1960s. He appeared on television on programmes such as 'Oh Boy!' and 'Boy Meets Girl', and in several feature films including 'Play it Cool'.
His first album, 'The Sound of Fury' featuring 10 songs all written by Billy, was ground breaking for its time. He was one of the few artists before the Beatles era to write and record his own songs. DJ John Peel called it "the only authentic British Rock and Roll album around, at that time."
The Beatles even auditioned to be his backing group. But it was never to be. John Lennon famously asked for his autograph.
Billy's success was marred by health worries. A heart condition had dogged him throughout his career. As a child he had suffered from rheumatic fever and Billy said that the doctors had never expected him to live beyond his teens. Twice during the early 1970s Billy underwent heart surgery to repair and replace damaged valves. During this time he moved to a farm in Wales with his long-term partner Lisa Rosen, a music publisher, who he had met after several failed relationships and a short lived marriage.
By this time Billy's career had gone into decline and 1978 saw him threatened with bankruptcy. Billy promised to release more songs to repay his tax bill and the threat was discharged. His health was poor but the 1980s brought a revival of his fortunes. He had recorded a new album 'The One and Only Billy Fury' (released posthumously) and despite another health scare in March 1982 had begun the promotional work for it.
In January 1983 at his home in London Billy suffered a heart attack and died. He was just 42 years old.
Today Billy's life is celebrated through his fan club and through the numerous tribute acts that perform his music, including one featuring his younger brother 'Albie' under the stage name of Jason Eddie. Billy's songs are known around the world, and he is considered to be one of Liverpool's greatest stars.
A life size bronze Billy Fury statue, commissioned by 'The Sound of Fury' and created by Liverpool artist Tom Murphy, was unveiled by his mother Jean Wycherley and his brother Albie at the former Museum of Liverpool Life on 19 April 2003. It is now on permanent display outside the Piermaster's House in the Albert Dock. Items loaned to the museum by members of the Billy Fury fan club 'The Sound of Fury' also went on display at the former Museum of Liverpool Life in April 2005.
Billy meeting Elvis Presley on the set of 'Girls, Girls, Girls' in Hollywood, May 1962. Photo courtesy of The Elvis Presley Fan Club