Roy Orbison facts: Songs, sunglasses, marriages and death of The Big O

21 March 2022, 11:11 | Updated: 14 September 2023, 22:52

Roy Orbison
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Roy Orbison was one of the most influential musicians of his generation, and had a career that spanned several decdes.

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With songs like 'Oh, Pretty Woman' and 'Crying', Orbison cemented himself as one of the leading rock stars of the 1960s, before finding a successful career resurgence two decades later.

Here are all the important facts about The Big O:

  1. Who was Roy Orbison?

    Roy Orbison
    Roy Orbison. Picture: Getty

    Roy Orbison was an American singer and musician known for his dark and emotional ballads and rock classics.

    He was known for his almost operatic style of singing, and had the nicknames 'the Caruso of Rock' and 'the Big O'.

    He began singing in a rockabilly and country band in high school, and was signed by Sam Phillips of Sun Records in 1956.

    However, he didn't find big success until his time with Monument Records from 1960 onwards.

    In the 1980s, Orbison enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of several cover versions of his songs. In 1988, he co-founded the Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne.

    Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in the same year, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989.

    Rolling Stone placed him at number 37 on their list of the 'Greatest Artists of All Time', and number 13 on their list of the '100 Greatest Singers of All Time'.

  2. What were Roy Orbison's biggest songs?

    Oh, Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison (HD - HQ 720p - 1080p) DVDRip High Quality and Definition

    Among his most famous songs include:

    - 'Only the Lonely'

    - 'Crying'

    - 'In Dreams'

    - 'It's Over'

    - 'Oh, Pretty Woman'

    - 'You Got It'

    - 'I Drove All Night'

    - 'Pretty Paper'

  3. Why did Roy Orbison always wear dark glasses?

    Roy Orbison
    Roy Orbison. Picture: Getty

    Roy Orbison and all his siblings had poor eyesight.

    He had to use thick corrective lenses from a very early age, and was self-conscious about his appearance.

    Because of this, he began dyeing his almost-white hair black when he was still very young, and he kept the look for the rest of his life.

  4. When did Roy Orbison pass away?

    In 1988, Orbison was enjoying a career resurgence, and was intending on writing an autobiography and hoped Martin Sheen would play him in a biopic.

    In November 1988, his album Mystery Girl was completed, and the Traveling Wilburys' first album was a success.

    He had told Johnny Cash that he was experiencing chest pains. He travelled to Europe to receive an award, and played a show in Antwerp.

    A few days later, a manager at a club in Boston was worried about Orbison's health, but the singer completed his gig.

    He performed at the Front Row Theater in Ohio, on December 4. He then returned home in Hendersonville to rest for a few days before flying to London to film two more videos.

    On December 6, 1988, he flew model airplanes with his sons and had dinner at his mother's home. Later that day, he died of a heart attack, at the age of 52.

  5. Was Roy Orbison married?

    Roy Jr and Barbara Orbison in 2010
    Roy Jr and Barbara Orbison in 2010. Picture: Getty

    Roy Orbison married his girlfriend Claudette Frady in 1957, but divorced in 1964 due to her infidelities. However, they reconciled 10 months later. She tragically died in 1966, in a car crash. Roy survived the crash.

    On March 25, 1969, Orbison married German teenager Barbara Jakobs, and they stayed married until his death in 1988.

    Barbara was a German-born United States-based entrepreneur and music producer. She died at the age of 60 in 2011 from pancreatic cancer, exactly 23 years after the death of her husband.

  6. What happened to Roy Orbison's children?

    Alex, Wesley and Roy Jr in 2017
    Alex, Wesley and Roy Jr in 2017. Picture: Getty

    Orbison's two eldest sons with Claudette - Roy DeWayne and Anthony King - tragically died as children due to a house fire at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, while he was playing in Bournemouth in the UK.

    Wesley (born 1965), his youngest son with Claudette, was raised by Orbison's parents.

    Orbison and Barbara had a son (Roy Kelton) in 1970 and a second (Alexander) in 1975.

    Alex, also known as Orbi, is a drummer, writer, director, and film producer. He is also president of Still Working Music Group, a publishing company, and president and co-founder of Roy's Boys LLC, where he manages his father's legacy alongside his brothers.

    Roy Orbison Jr is also a musician and record producer. He co-produced the album Roy Orbison: The Ultimate Collection.