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Harry Nilsson Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trade Mark (1) | Trivia (22) | Personal Quotes (6)

Overview (4)

Born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Died in Agoura Hills, California, USA  (heart disease)
Birth NameHarry Edward Nilsson III
Height 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Harry Nilsson was born on June 15, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA as Harry Edward Nilsson III. He was married to Una M. O'Keeffe, Diane Clatworthy and Sandra McTaggart. He died on January 15, 1994 in Agoura Hills, California, USA.

Spouse (3)

Una M. O'Keeffe (12 August 1976 - 15 January 1994) (his death) (6 children)
Diane Clatworthy (31 December 1969 - 1974) (divorced) (1 child)
Sandra McTaggart (24 October 1964 - 1966) (divorced)

Trade Mark (1)

Three-and-a-half-octave vocal range; usually provided all his own harmonies on record.

Trivia (22)

The Park Street apartment that he owned in London was where Cass Elliot died from a heart attack in July 1974. In September 1978 The Who's drummer Keith Moon died at the same apartment of an overdose of Heminevrin, a prescription drug that he was taking for alcoholism.
His grandparents were Swedish circus performers, whose act was known as the "Aerial Ballet" (which became the title for his second album).
His cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" was chosen to be played over the opening titles and during the first part of Midnight Cowboy (1969). Other songs considered included Nilsson's own "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City", and Randy Newman's "Cowboy", which he and Nilsson re-recorded later.
After leaving the RCA record label in the late 1970s, Nilsson's later recorded output was mostly songs for soundtracks (The World's Greatest Lover (1977), Popeye (1980), and the holiday special Ziggy's Gift (1982)), though he did contribute two vocals to a Yoko Ono all-star tribute. At the time of his death in 1994, Nilsson had just completed the vocals for a possible comeback album.
Became active in the anti-handgun movement after friend John Lennon's murder; appeared at several public events for this cause.
When approached by Ringo Starr to star with him in Son of Dracula (1974), Nilsson at first thought the idea had come from his recent 'Son of Schmilsson' album, which included some horror-movie motifs; Starr had played drums on some of the songs. Starr hadn't seen the finished album, and knew nothing of it until shown a copy later by then-wife Maureen. Nilsson starred as young Count Downe (the Son of Dracula), while Starr played the aged Merlin the Magician. Both knew the movie wasn't going to be a hit while they were making it, but they enjoyed working together.
Nilsson gained early recording experience by singing on commercial jingles and beds, including ads for Ban deodorant, Sea & Ski and Der Weinerschnitzel. Several Nilsson songs were also later used in commercials, including "Me And My Arrow" (for Plymouth), "Good Old Desk", and more recently a re-edited version of "Everybody's Talkin'".
Along with composing the soundtrack for Otto Preminger's Skidoo (1968) (he appears briefly as a stoned tower guard, and also SINGS the closing credits), Nilsson provided much of the music for The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969).
Met The Monkees through producer Chip Douglas; Douglas had played bass on a Nilsson collaboration with Phil Spector. Nilsson sat at a piano and played the group a selection of his recent songs, for them to possibly record. Michael Nesmith's reaction to what they heard was a delighted "Where the fuck did you COME from, man?!" Nilsson was an instant hit with the Monkees, who did record his "Cuddly Toy" for their next album, and later "Daddy's Song" for their movie Head (1968). When Nilsson heard "Cuddly Toy" on the radio, he knew he could quit his job at the bank.
His father was a scout for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team who lived in Palatka, Florida. Harry's half-brother, Gary Nilsson, still lives in Palatka.
Never made personal appearances (aside from one very brief European tour, early on) because he knew he could never recreate his complex sounds outside of a studio. Made a handful of television guest appearances in the Sixties on his manager's advice, but disliked the results.
Worked the night shift at a bank's computer center, to have daytimes free to pursue recording and publishing deals, and worked on songs during his breaks. Composer/publisher Perry Botkin Jr. befriended Nilsson, and gave him a key to his office so he'd have another place to write, after hours. By the time Nilsson scored his RCA recording contract, he was used to working out of an office, so he asked for one at RCA in Hollywood as part of his deal. (Nilsson often surprised fans, the press, and industry people by answering his own phone, and any questions about his performing live with a brief "I didn't." "I haven't." "I don't.").
Was given John Lennon's lambskin-and-wool coat when they first met in England; Nilsson passed it along to his sister (it didn't fit him), who stored it in a vault.
Told Hugh M. Hefner when he guested on Playboy After Dark (1969) that his song "Good Old Desk" was about God, as the first letters of the title spelled G-O-D. Admitted years later he'd been kidding, and Hefner apparently didn't catch on.
Is referenced in the song "Life Is A Rock But the Radio Rolled Me" by Reunion.
Met The Beatles, which had been impressed by his first album, "Pandemonium Shadow Show," early in 1968. Became close friends with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, in particular, and he shared a house with them in Los Angeles during 1974. The three collaborated on several records in the mid-1970s, while their off-hours drinking binges around LA became legendary.
During the recording of his "Pussy Cats" album (produced, co-written, and co-performed by John Lennon), he kept secret from everyone that his smoking and drinking were threatening his health. It was clear that his once-celebrated voice was taking a toll, but Nilsson, afraid that Lennon would cancel the recording sessions, kept a bucket hidden so he could spit out the blood produced after his coughing fits ruptured a vocal cord.
Nilsson's relationship with his record label, RCA Records, went through a gradual decline through the 1970s, largely driven by his own excesses. His "Pussy Cats" album was almost canceled because of its original title, "Strange Pussies." Shortly after that album was released, close friend John Lennon (who had produced "Pussy Cats") marched into the RCA offices and demanded that Nilsson be paid what he was worth, hinting that both he and Ringo Starr might have signed with RCA Records once their EMI contracts were up the following year but not if Nilsson didn't get a new contract. RCA pulled the stops out, offering Nilsson a royalty increase, greater creative control, and a completion bonus for each new album. As it turned out, neither Lennon nor Starr signed with RCA, and Nilsson's subsequent albums were largely critical and commercial failures. In 1977, his "Knnillssonn" album showed great promise, and RCA planned a large marketing campaign, but the death of Elvis Presley shifted the label's focus, and it turned instead to promoting Presley's back catalog. Disappointed by this, and by the release of a greatest-hits album without his input, Nilsson asked RCA to cancel his contract.
In 1971, Nilsson did a cover of the Badfinger song "Without You," which appeared on his "Nilsson Schmilsson" album, with haunting vocals that showed his incredible multiple-octave range. The song went to #1 in the charts, and he won a Grammy for the song.
He suffered a massive heart attack on February 14, 1993. He died a year later in his sleep from a heart disease, on January 15, 1994, at his home in Agoura Hills, CA.
He had six children with his third wife, Una: Annie, Beau, Ben, Kief, Olivia, and Oscar. He also had a son, Zachary Nine, from his marriage to Diane.
Friend Ringo Starr served as best man at his marriage to Una O'Keeffe.

Personal Quotes (6)

[How The Point (1971) was conceived] I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, 'Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn't, then there's a point to it.'
I get nervous when they start shooting piano players.
I do believe that most men live lives of quiet desperation. For despair, optimism is the only practical solution. Hope is practical. Because eliminate that and it's pretty scary. Hope at least gives you the option of living.
[Describing his London apartment, where he lived in the early 1970s] It was just a typical London flat, but it was in a great neighborhood. It was across from the Playboy Club, diagonally. From one balcony you could read the time from Big Ben, and from the other balcony you could watch the bunnies go up and down.
[About his and John Lennon's being ejected from the Troubadour Club in Hollywood) That incident ruined my reputation for 10 years. Get one Beatle drunk and look what happens!
[about his legendary partying with other celebrities] I promise you folks, we don't raise hell. But we do have a good time.

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