Stephen “Stevie” Wright, singer of Australian rock outfit the Easybeats and widely considered the country’s first international pop star, has died at age 68. Wright became ill on Boxing Day, December 26th, and died Sunday night, The Guardian reports. No cause of death has been given, though rock historian Glenn A. Baker confirmed the news to radio station 6PR.
Wright was born in Leeds, England in 1947 and moved to Australia at age nine. In Sydney, he met musicians Harry Vanda, George Young, Dick Diamonde and Gordon Fleet, forming the Easybeats in 1964. Best known for their 1966 classic “Friday on My Mind,” which reached Number One in Australia and Number Six in the UK, the group cracked the U.S. Top 20 and became one of the first Australian pop-rock bands to break through internationally in the 1960s.
The track, originally recorded at London’s famed IBC studios, was voted Best Australian Song of all time by a music industry panel for the Australasian Performing Right Association in 2001. “Friday on My Mind” was later reworked by David Bowie on his 1973 covers LP, Pin Ups, and Bruce Springsteen covered the tune last year during an Australian tour.
After the Easybeats’ 1969 break-up, Wright, also billed as Little Stevie, ventured on as a solo artist, earning a hit with his 11-minute 1974 single, “Evie.” Wright continued to perform, including a stint in an Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but battled drug and alcohol addiction for two decades.
“The Easybeats were one of the most remarkable pop bands of their time, and I think probably recorded the definitive pop song of the era in ‘Friday on My Mind,'” Australian pop singer Normie Rowe told ABC Radio. “When the drugs raised their ugly head, I think it was the beginning of the end for him. Not too many people come back from that. I really think that if you don’t have a strong family foundation, probably show business isn’t the place for you.”
In 2005, Wright was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame based on his success with the Easybeats. He most recently performed in 2009 at the Legends of Rock festival at Byron Bay, Australia.