Happy birthday, Karel Gott! Legendary Czech crooner turns 80

The Czech singer is one of the country’s most beloved pop culture icons, winner of the Český slavík (Czech Nightingale) 42 times

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky Published on 14.07.2019 08:00:30 (updated on 14.07.2019) Reading time: 2 minutes

Legendary crooner Karel Gott, often dubbed the Czech Tom Jones, has turned a sprightly 80 years old today, July 14, 2019.

Perhaps the most beloved of all Czech singers and pop icons, and one of the country’s most famous 20th century faces, Gott’s popularity crossed Czech borders into other European territories – particularly Germany, where he was just as celebrated as he was at home.

Gott was born on July 14, 1939 in Plzeň, in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. While he initially wanted to study art, he turned to music after failing to be accepted into the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague.

In 1960, Gott decided to become a professional singer, and released his first single with Supraphon, a duet with Vlasta Průchová, two years later. That same year, Gott placed 49th in the annual Český slavík (Czech Nightingale) vote to determine the country’s top singers.

In 1963, however, Gott would win his first Český slavík award after releasing his hit singles Oči sněhem zaváté (Snowdrift Eyes) and a cover of Harry Mancini’s Moon River.

Over a career that has spanned more than fifty years and included extended stays in Germany, France, and the United States (he lived in Las Vegas for six months in 1968, performing nightly at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino), Gott would win the Český slavík an incredible 42 times.

Gott’s greatest success at home, however, would come during his golden years from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, an era during which the singer provided a soothing voice during tumultuous political times.

The crooner’s European tours would sell out at locations throughout the continent. He became friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and even reportedly convinced the legendary Beatle to perform in Prague before communist officials deep-sixed the idea.

Gott with Yoko Ono, John Lennon via KarelGott.cz
Gott with Yoko Ono, John Lennon via KarelGott.cz

In late 2015, Gott was diagnosed with malignant lymph node cancer, which was treated and reported to be in remission by early 2016.

Last year, Gott was hospitalized with a recurring respiratory illness that forced him to cancel a number of planned appearances, including one in his hometown of Plzeň on the November 17 national holiday in the Czech Republic.

In January 2019, however, the singer was able to make up for that concert, singing to a crowd in Plzeň that included a large number of German fans. It was Gott’s first concert since 2014.

Shortly after that appearance, however, Gott announced that he had cancelled a planned large-scale concert at Prague’s O2 Arena to celebrate his 80th birthday.

“On July 14 this year, a spectacular concert was to be held at Prague’s O2 Arena for Karel Gott’s 80th birthday, but a weakened immune system will not allow Mr. Gott be involved in the preparation for the concert to the degree he would ideally imagine it to be,” a spokesperson told local media.

Gott will be back in concert to celebrate his 80th birthday later this month, however, at the 27th annual Benátská! music festival with Radio Impuls at the Vesec resort area in Liberec.

Gott will open the Benátská! festival in concert on Thursday, July 25, followed by an impressive lineup of Czech musicians over the weekend that will include Richard Müller, Chinaski, Čechomor, Lenny, No Name, Václav Neckář, and many others.

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