By People Staff
September 13, 2004 12:00 PM

Eighties pop icon Laura Branigan loved to sing—that much was obvious with her pounding hit “Gloria”—but she really loved to joke. Years ago, recalls her friend, songwriter Diane Warren, Branigan took her to a sushi restaurant. “I’d never had Japanese food before,” says Warren, who wrote Branigan’s later hit “Solitaire.” “Laura took a huge spoonful of wasabi and said, ‘Did you ever taste green-tea ice cream?’ ” After Warren swallowed, “tears were coming out of my eyes—and Laura’s too,” from laughter.

Tears of sorrow were shed last week as family and friends attended a funeral mass in Armonk, N.Y., for the 47-year-old singer, who died Aug. 26 of a brain aneurysm while asleep at her home in East Quogue, N.Y. When she’d begun to complain of headaches in the past few weeks, “she thought it was stress,” says her friend, real estate agent Gary Knotoff. Apparently it didn’t cross her mind that she might be on the verge of the same brain hemorrhage that killed her father, as well as his father. “As silly as it sounds, you think it won’t happen to you,” says her brother Mark, 54, a Wall Street executive.

Her talent, though, seemed destined to connect with an audience. The voice—a blend of disco, torch and rock—”really brought a song to life,” says Warren. Branigan sang backup for Leonard Cohen in 1977 before signing with Atlantic Records cofounder Ahmet Ertegun. “I was knocked out by the power of her voice and her great range,” he says. She hit big in 1982 with her first album, containing “Gloria,” followed by other Top 10 hits like 1984’s “Self Control.” But she dropped out in the ’90s to nurse her husband, attorney Larry Kruteck, who died of colon cancer in 1996. In recent years she continued to perform and record music (and dated the drummer in her band, Tommy Bayiokos). But she spent most of her time caring for her mother, Kathleen, 83, who has Alzheimer’s, while gardening and cooking for friends. “She was a giving person,” says her brother. “She was certainly full of life.”