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“I REFUSE TO BELIEVE MY BROTHER IS DEAD”
By Rebecca Hardy
The Daily Mail – August 9, 2003
Robin Talks For The First Time About His Brother’s Death
Maurice Gibb’s trademark hat is now gathering dust in an upstairs cupboard at his twin brother’s Oxfordshire home. Robin has had it since Maurice died from brain damage caused by cardiac arrest at Miami’s Mount Sinai hospital in January. He was just 53. His brother hasn’t looked at the hat since he took possession of it. He can’t. He doesn’t look at photos of Maurice either, or the home movies made when they were children.
‘The other weekend I was on the ferry to Ireland and they were showing a documentary about the Bee Gees,’ says Robin. ‘They had these giant screens and Maurice’s face was everywhere. I couldn’t look at them. I can’t look at his face even in a photograph.’
This is Robin’s first interview since his brother’s sudden death and although seven months have passed, he still refuses to accept that he is gone.
‘I find it very, very hard,’ he says. ‘He was part of the fabric of my life. We were kids together, and teenagers. We spent the whole of our lives with each other because of our music. I can’t accept that he’s dead. I just imagine he’s alive somewhere else. Pretend is the right word. Pretend is where I’m at.’
I met Robin at his home, a former monastery in Thames, which he shares with his second wife, Dwina Murphy-Gibb. We last met here a month before Maurice’s sudden death. Robin was stick-thin then, but seems to have lost even more weight. The deep sadness about him is etched around his eyes.
Robin was the intense, sensitive twin, the lyricist, the introvert. Maurice, the musical arranger, was the extrovert. Together with their elder brother, Barry, they started creating a world of music to escape from a childhood made harsh by poverty.
Born on the Isle of Man to Barbara and Hugh, the Gibbs moved round Britain as their father sought work to feed his family of seven. ‘The real world was just too real and we didn’t want to be a part of normal life,’ says Robin. ‘We wanted to create a magical world for the three of us.’
Maurice and Robin started singing harmonies at the age of six, practising in the bathroom to achieve the echo effect they wanted. When their father first heard them, he thought it was the radio. By the time the twins were seven, he was taking them to clubs where he worked and paying them half a crown each. In 1958, the family immigrated to Australia, where the three brothers launched their recording career. Before long they were supporting the entire family and soon after moving back to England in 1967, they became one of the biggest entertainment acts in the world. Their success bonded them even closer together. ‘Music became an obsession and eventually we felt more comfortable with each other than we did with anyone else,’ says Robin. ‘The three of us were like one person.’
The devastation is clear in his voice. Emotionally unable to talk about Maurice’s death until now, Robin speaks with a raw honesty — and no little anger.
Maurice died shortly after midnight on January 12. He had checked himself into Mount Sinai hospital less then three days previously, complaining of stomach pains. Doctors did not detect that he had a twisted bowel. He was given painkillers and was due to be examined the following day. During the night his intestine burst, flooding his body with toxins and causing cardiac arrest.
Maurice, who was married to Yvonne and had two children, Adam and Samantha, had been placed on the eighth floor, which is reserved for VIPS. The hospital’s emergency equipment was three floors below. It took more than ten minutes to retrieve the equipment to restart Maurice’s heart, by which time he had suffered massive brain damage.
‘One morning I’d woken up about 4 a.m. feeling nauseous,’ says Robin. ‘The feeling lasted about an hour. It was at the time Maurice was in hospital with pains in his stomach. It was probably some indication that something was wrong, because I have never, ever had that feeling before.
‘I was called in Oxfordshire by our personal assistant early on the Thursday morning and told Maurice had had cardiac arrest and was having surgery’, he recalls. ‘I was in total shock. I didn’t even know he was in hospital.’
Eighty percent of Maurice’s stomach was removed during surgery and he did not regain consciousness. The following day he was placed on a life support machine and Robin flew out to Miami with Dwina.
‘I left on the Saturday morning. The doctors were saying there was still a chance that they’d get him back. You hope against hope that they’re right. I thought: This can’t be happening. He’s too young for this. He’s not ill. He’s never been ill… But as the plane got closer to Miami, I had this terrible feeling he was dying. Maybe he was telling me that he was going. I felt anger, panic, despair and helplessness. The helplessness was the worst thing — that and great fear. It was like mentally being in hell.’
Robin was met at the airport by two policemen and the brother’s personal assistant, Dick Ashby. He was taken first to his brother, Barry’s house and then to the hospital, where he was left alone with Maurice.
‘If your brain is dead, your personality, your sense of self, everything about you is dead, but Mo just looked as if he was asleep. He had good colour and even though he was on a machine, his breathing was normal. I held his hand and it felt warm and loose. There was nothing clammy or sickly about him. My instinct then was to try and wake him up. I held his hand and shouted in his ear. I wasn’t being loving or kind. I shouted: ‘Come on, this is ridiculous. Fucking wake up!’ I did that for 15 minutes. I hadn’t accepted he was seriously ill. The idea that someone so close to you couldn’t wake up was utterly incomprehensible. Then the doctor came in. I was alone with him so I asked: ‘Will he ever wake up again?’ He said: ‘No.’ I said: ‘Is there any chance at all?’ Again he said no because Maurice had no brain left. There wasn’t any activity at all.’
Shortly afterwards, the doctor spoke to the family. They were told Maurice had suffered catastrophic lack of oxygen to the brain. If he had been shot in the head, the doctor said, he would have stood a better chance of survival.
‘If the heart stops for more than two minutes, you have massive brain death,’ says Robin. ‘There are only two minutes between our conscious world and zero. That’s how fragile our consciousness is. We all spoke about it together. Hard as it was for everybody, we knew Mo would not have wanted to be kept in that state for months if there was no chance. I knew in my heart of hearts he wasn’t coming back. It was better that he went with dignity. That was about 10 p.m. We asked them to turn off the machine around 11:30. If he continued on his own, then fine; if he didn’t…’ Robin and Barry went together to say goodbye to their brother. Robin did not kiss him or shed tears.
‘We said we’d fly the flag without him and carry on. I didn’t give him a kiss because I still hadn’t accepted what was happening. I was hoping that some miracle was going to happen. Of course, it didn’t. I wish I had kissed him now.’
Emotionally exhausted, Robin left the hospital, expecting Maurice at least to live through the night. He was declared dead at 12:10 a.m. His wife was by his side.
Robin was standing at the dock of his Miami home when he was told the news. When he eventually slept that night, he dreamt of Maurice.
‘I dreamt I woke up in my bedroom in Miami and opened the bedroom door. Maurice was in the hallway but his back was to me. He had his hat on and he half looked round towards me. He was walking away. That told me that he knew what had happened. I also felt he was telling me I could have done something. I believe he’d been asking me for help when I woke up in Oxfordshire feeling nauseous. If I’d known he was in hospital, I could have saved him then.
‘Maurice walked into that place complaining of a stomachache. He had eaten breakfast and hadn’t been ill the day before that. They took one X-ray, gave him a painkiller and the doctor said: ‘I’ll send round a stomach specialist tomorrow. Good Afternoon.’ That was 4 p.m. Thirteen hours later he was brain dead. If he’d been a tramp off the street, he’d have been rushed straight into emergency and he’d have been alive. I believe the doctor completely screwed things up. There is a tremendous amount of anger and the hospital is not off the hook. The lawyers are looking into it — they have been since the day it happened, because his death was totally preventable.’
The days immediately following Maurice’s death passed in a blur for Robin. His feelings oscillated between anger, despair and complete devastation. He received many letters of support from fans and fellow musicians. Sir Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton, men who have themselves known dreadful grief, were particularly supportive.
‘They all said how important Mo’s contribution to the industry was, but more importantly, on a personal level, they said what a great guy he was. At the end of the day, though, he still ain’t here.’
Robin was not sure he would be strong enough to attend the funeral until the very last minute.
‘I didn’t want to go, not because I didn’t love him, but because I was so shattered. I know I had to go to support Yvonne, but when I got to the door I still wouldn’t go in. At the last minute I said: ‘I’ll go in as long as I don’t have to see the thing. You know the…’ Even now, he can’t bring himself to utter the word coffin. ‘Of course, I opened the door and there it was. But having seen it, I thought the worst was over.’
Although over 100 friends attended the funeral, Robin drew no strength from such public mourning. ‘It was awful, just like a dream and I found it very hard to speak. I said something along the lines of ‘I can’t see there can ever be any closure for me. I can never accept this.’ I was angry. I couldn’t be on a podium and spit out anecdotes and festive moments from Mo’s life. He’d just been torn from me.’
The timing of Maurice’s death was for Robin, particularly traumatic. For although their brotherly bond had almost been torn apart by failed marriages and an addiction to drugs and alcohol, Robin and Maurice were closer than ever.
‘In the early years Maurice had a problem with drink, as a lot of people in the industry do,’ says Robin. ‘But he’d stopped drinking years before. He was in really good shape. He’d had good health check-ups before this happened and was very happy in his marriage. I’d only spoken to him a few weeks before and he was very chirpy. He’d asked when I was back in Miami and I said I wouldn’t be there until after the New Year. He said: ‘Try and get back for the second week of January so we can all sit down and decide what we’re going to do for the year.’ I said: ‘Fine.’ Of course I was back for the second week in January for his funeral.’
Robin remained in Miami for several days after the funeral. He found it an increasingly unbearable place to be and returned to England within a week. ‘I couldn’t stay there,’ he says. ‘I still find Miami very hard because from my dock I can see the hospital. I can’t stand there and look at it.’
Maurice’s ashes were buried at his home in the Bahamas and his wife, Yvonne, is to place a stone there. It will commemorate Maurice as a husband, father and brother. Perhaps that will finally help Robin accept what has happened. But for the moment, he can’t.
‘If some people can imagine that a person they love is alive in another world, why can’t I imagine Maurice is alive in this one? An artist is a person who uses art to run away from reality. It’s not wrong-it’s survival. There’s nothing wrong with me creating a world in which Maurice is alive.’
Creating music has been huge therapy for Robin. His latest single, A Lover’s Prayer, will be released at the end of September. Then he and Barry will begin writing the first Bee Gee album without Maurice. Meanwhile Robin is appearing as a judge on the BBC’s Fame Academy. He says he’s determined to identify and nurture the passion for music he shared with his brothers. Recently he was reminded of their own beginnings.
‘I was in the car on my way to London and Radio 2 was doing the Bee Gees story. They started playing the demos we’d made, then I heard Maurice talking. Suddenly that feeling of helplessness and non-acceptance came flooding back. I don’t think you can ever come to terms with something like this. But you can learn to live with it. I’ll never get used to living without Mo, but the painful things that surround what happened to him aren’t so painful any more — not so raw or so new.’
And the brothers have resolved another difficulty: How the Bee Gees should carry on.
‘In the beginning, Barry and I couldn’t decide if we were going to go forward with the name of the Bee Gees or just as Barry and Robin. Now we’ve decided to continue as the Bee Gees because we feel we can and Maurice would have wanted it. He could play a few chords on a keyboard and inspire a whole song. I don’t think anyone could play a few notes as magically as Maurice could. Maurice is a part of the history of the Bee Gees, so the music will always have Maurice in it. We’ve lost Maurice, but we’ll never lose his inspiration.’