Roy Orbison sang about loneliness and heartache with an intensity and poignancy perhaps unequalled in rock. The only thing about Orbison that overshadowed his greatness was his niceness.
In a field in which gimmick and swagger often contribute to stardom as much as talent, Orbison was a singer who earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His best-known hits, including "Only the Lonely" and "Running Scared," are among the most majestic and affecting records ever made.
With Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and an unknown truck driver from Tupelo, Miss., named Elvis Presley, Orbison formed the nucleus of talented but untested singers and songwriters who recorded on the old Sun label in Memphis.
They began in the late 1950s and within a decade Orbison had soared to the pinnacle of rock fame with such songs as "Only the Lonely," in 1960, the first of his several million-sellers, "Blue Angel," "Cryin' " and "I'm Hurtin'." His "Oh, Pretty Woman" in 1964 sold more than 7 million copies and remains a rock standard.
Presley once called him "the greatest singer in the world" and, though critics may dispute that singular accolade, Orbison was a performer of mass appreciation whose appeal extended far into his middle years.
"Only the Lonely" was to typify the Orbison style. It was a melodramatic and melodic ballad, sharply distinct from the pile-driving sounds of '60s rock. Orbison's pristine and powerful falsetto with its three-octave range pushed the song to No. 1.
His other hits came to include "It's Over," and "Blue Bayou" (given new life in a recording by Linda Ronstadt). In 1987, he re-recorded his 1963 hit "In Dreams" after the song was revived in the movie "Blue Velvet."
In 1980 he and Emmylou Harris were awarded a Grammy for "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again," and in 1987 he and his old Sun records colleague Carl Perkins along with Bo Diddley were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.