British ska/reggae star Judge Dread, best known
for his ’70s hits “Big Seven” and “Je T’aime,” died Friday after
collapsing onstage as he concluded a performance at the
Penny Theatre in Canterbury, England.
The Times of London reports that Dread’s last words
were: “Let’s hear it for the band!” He then keeled over, but the
audience initially thought it was a joke. An off-duty paramedic
attending the concert later realized Dread wasn’t faking and tried
to resuscitate him, but Dread was pronounced dead minutes later at
nearby Kent and Canterbury Hospital. The 53-year-old, 250-lb.
vocalist is believed to have suffered a heart attack; an autopsy is
Judge Dread was born Alex Hughes in Kent,
England. He developed a love of Jamaican music as a teenager when
he lived for a time with a West Indian family in London. After
working as a debt collector, bouncer and, briefly, as a bodyguard
for the Rolling Stones, Hughes launched his career
in 1972. He adopted the stage name “Judge Dread” and recorded a
lewd single called “Big Six,” which cost only £6 to
“Big Six” reached No. 11 in the U.K. despite receiving no radio
play due to its risquT lyrics; a similar song called “Big Seven”
reached the Top 10 and stayed on the charts for 27 weeks. Dread
scored another U.K. Top 10 hit in 1978 with a reggae remake of
Serge Gainsbourg’s 1969 classic “Je T’aime (Moi
Non Plus).” He sold several million albums throughout his 25-plus
year career and was second only to Bob Marley in
U.K. reggae sales during the 1970s.
“We’re extremely saddened by his death. We were all big fans of
his,” Moon Ska Records spokesman Steve
Shafer told JAMTV.
“He was tremendously talented. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t work
with him more closely.” A new recording of “Big Seven” that Judge
Dread made shortly before his death will appear on an forthcoming
Moon compilation, Ska United: A Global Ska Sampler.