With a manly pair of muttonchops and an implausible name, Engelbert Humperdinck emerged in the 1960s as an easy-listening romantic and a popular alternative to the new sounds of the British Invasion. He first hit the international pop charts with “Release Me,” and like his contemporary Tom Jones, Humperdinck concerts were greeted by female fans throwing lingerie to the stage.
The son of a British Army officer stationed in India, and the ninth of 10 children, his family returned to England when he was 11. As a young man, he took up singing and changed his name to Gerry Dorsey, though tuberculosis and a six-month hospital stay sidelined his career. He signed with manager Gordon Mills (who also represented Jones), who suggested an outlandish name change: Engelbert Humperdinck, the name of a 19th century German opera composer. The singer eventually made the name change legal.
In 1967, he scored a career-making hit with a remake of “Release Me” after performing as a last-minute fill-in guest on England's popular “Sunday Night at the London Palladium.” It was No. 1 in the UK for six consecutive weeks, keeping the Beatles' groundbreaking “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields” single at bay. Humperdinck enjoyed more hits during the 60s and 70s, including “Can't Take My Eyes Off of You,” “The Last Waltz” and “Quando Quando Quando.”
During the ’70s and ’80s, he was the subject of paternity suits, and agreed to pay two women in Las Vegas and New York child support. In 1996, he recorded “Fly High, Lesbian Seagull” for the movie soundtrack of “Beavis and Butthead Do America.” In 2007, he celebrated his 40th anniversary as a performer with the album “The Winding Road,” featuring the work of several acclaimed British songwriters.
By the middle of 2010, and at age 74, Humperdinck was one of many music veterans to openly express interest in Simon Cowell's coveted seat on “American Idol.” He continues to perform 120 concerts a year internationally, and divides his time between homes in Leicester, England, and Los Angeles.
He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989.