Procol Harum Frontman Gary Brooker Dies of Cancer at 76: 'A Brightly Shining, Irreplaceable Light'

Gary Brooker wrote and sang the band's biggest hit, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"

Gary Brooker
Gary Brooker. Photo: Michael Putland/Getty

Procol Harum frontman Gary Brooker, who co-wrote and sang the band's biggest hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale," has died. He was 76.

Brooker, who had been undergoing cancer treatment, died at his home on Saturday, according to a statement shared by the band.

"With the deepest regret we must announce the death on 19 February 2022 of Gary Brooker MBE, singer, pianist and composer of Procol Harum, and a brightly-shining, irreplaceable light in the music industry," the statement read. "He lit up any room he entered, and his kindness to a multilingual family of fans was legendary."

A London native, Brooker got his start singing duets with his musician father before finding fame with Procol Harum, which he formed with lyricist Keith Reid.

The band put out 13 albums together and numerous singles, but none were as successful as their very first, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," which would go on to become one of the most popular songs of all time.

The track, released in 1967, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and was named the most-played song in public places in the U.K. for the past 75 years by the BBC in 2009.

"It isn't something I could have remotely imagined when I wrote the song and then made that legendary recording with Procol Harum all those years ago," Brooker told the BBC at the time. "Every musician and singer hopes to reach out and communicate to the audience so it means a great deal that the record has such an indefinable popularity and lasting appeal."

"A Whiter Shade of Pale," which derived its melody from Bach, spent six weeks atop the U.K. charts, and peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"It is still a great mystery to me why, how it's come to be still so strong in so many people's brains and lives and feelings," Brooker told Billboard in 2017. "I still like singing and I like doing all the Procol songs, from 1967 right through to now. And it's always been people that enjoyed each other's company, for the most part, so it's become what I always thought a band is supposed to be."

Though the group split in 1977, they reformed as a new version in 1991, and recorded and toured up until 2019, according to Rolling Stone.

Brooker also enjoyed several solo endeavors, working with everyone from Eric Clapton and Bill Wyman to Paul McCartney, and touring with Ringo Starr.

He was heavily involved in various charities as well, and raised more than £1 million for the Royal Marsden Hospital with a concert in London just before the pandemic, according to the group's statement.

"He was notable for his individuality, integrity, and occasionally stubborn eccentricity," the statement read. "His mordant wit, and appetite for the ridiculous, made him a priceless raconteur (and his surreal inter-song banter made a fascinating contrast with the gravitas of Procol Harum's performances)."

Brooker is survived by his wife Franky, whom he met in 1965 and married three years later.

"But for all his other interests and skills – prize-winning angler, pub owner, lyricist, painter, inventor – he was above all a devoted and loyal husband to Franky," the statement said. "Our thoughts must be with her, their families and friends at this extremely sad time."

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