von Sharon Churcher, Mail on Sunday, 1. Januar 2006
Bee Gee Maurice Gibb had told the little girl they had moved to America so he could leave behind the London Club scene he blamed for his wild drinking binges.
But as his rage intensified his daughter, then 11 years-old, immediately recognised the over powering smell on his breath – it was brandy.
Samantha recalls: “Mum and I had been out that night to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous family support group and the moment we came back into the house we could tell Dad had been drinking. He was walking round and round, and then he fell over. When he got up, he had blood on his hands.
“He’d just completely broken down. My mum told me and my brother. “Get your stuff. We’re leaving now.” When we came downstairs again, Dad had a gun and started shouting abuse and waving it around.
“My mum said, “Keep walking.” We just walked over to the car and left. But what was so scary was that the next day, he called my mum and said he didn’t remember anything that had happened.
“We agreed to meet him and he asked me to go upstairs with him to the bedroom. There, he got out the gun and said “Please throw this away.”’
The house set on Miami’s Millionaires’ Row, was just yards from the seashore. Samantha took the pistol down to the water’s edge and hurled it from the garden, overarm, as far as she could into Biscayne Bay.
She was relieved when it disappeared beneath the waves, but the violent confrontation was not so easily submerged and for years left her scarred by an unarticulated anger.
Samantha Gibb has always remained silent about her turbulent family life with her father, who for decades was part of the world famous supergroup of brothers the Bee Gees. Their extraordinary Seventies falsetto sound became the trademark of the disco scene thanks to the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. In all, the group sold 110 million records.
But only now, as the third anniversary looms of Maurice’s sudden death at the age of 53 on January 12, 2003, has Samantha, 25, finally agreed to talk about her life with the pop legend; about his struggle to cope with the fame and attention and about his addictive, self destructive personality threatened to drag her down with him before a remarkable reconciliation in recent years.
Until the terrifying episode with the gun, Maurice Gibb had been what Samantha terms a ‘controlled alcoholic’. But as the disco driven appeal of the Bee Gees started to wane, overtaken first by punk then by the music of the eighties, so his dependence on the bottle became more obvious and destructive to himself and those around him.
Samantha says: “Until that day my dad was never violent. He did get huffy but he was like Jekyll and Hyde. It took that incident to really shake him back to reality.” Maurice had developed an obsession with guns, amassing a vast collection including Lugers and antique Colts. But the day he threatened his own family with one was a turning point. Maurice acknowledged he needed help. He went into rehab, with the support of his brothers, and seemed to take the first steps on the road to recovery.
But the shadows cast by the emotional turmoil of years on the booze were long and Samantha was certainly affected. She dropped out school at 16 and started, like her father, to drink heavily and experiment with marijuana.
Speaking at her mother Yvonne’s stunning villa in Miami – overlooking the bay into which she hurled her father’s gun – she recalls how she struggled with the American education system after moving from London. She says “I hated the homecoming-queen routines and the proms. I just never fitted in. It was hard knowing whether people liked you for who you were or because you were a Bee Gee’s daughter.
“I was hanging out with people who were drinking too much and I found myself drinking a lot. I didn’t like it. I wanted to get out of that scene because I think that alcoholism is something that can be genetic – which would be dangerous for me.
“Dad and I had very similar personalities. I think that’s why I was the one in the family he trusted to take away the gun. We could look at each other and know what we were thinking without having to say anything.
“At first, when I found out about his drinking problem, I was angry. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just have one beer and stop. I knew he and Mum were fighting because he was drinking.
“It all got so uncomfortable at home that I just wanted to hang out with friends and I became really distant from him. But after the gun episode, he tried to turn around his life and I started to see him as an amazing man. He went to AA meetings twice a day, even at Christmas.
“If he’d been alive this Christmas, we’d have started the day by unwrapping our presents I our stockings – “there’d be one hung for each of us – and then he’d go off to the AA centre where he volunteered to help homeless alcoholics. Every Christmas day he would make the mashed potatoes there.”
Then he would come home and carve the turkey. “We would put on the funny paper hats and pull crackers he shipped in every year from England” adds Samantha. “So he was really trying to turn things around – but the truth is that he would still slip off the wagon, especially when he’d go back on his many business trips to England. He was never comfortable there because that is where he started drinking a lot.
“Of all the brothers, he was the social one. He loved people. But then when he was down or there were problems in the band, the drink became a crutch.”
Samantha tells how although Maurice continually battled with his demons, he was able to help her deal with the problems she would encounter. She says: “There was a period when I could have ended up the same way. But Dad had told me he never wanted me to lie if it happened to me. So when one day he asked me if I had started drinking or doing drugs, I said I’d tried them but I was going to stop.”
In her late teens they even attended therapy together. She says: “I always remember going to one of my first AA meetings with him. He drove us in his hew Jaguar and we parked it in this dingy parking lot and as we were walking in, a homeless man recognised him.”
My Dad put his arms around him and we all walked into the room together. “So when people ask me what my dad was like I say, “When he was young he would enjoy going to Tramps nightclub in London and having a drink with John Lennon or Price Charles.
“Later in life, he enjoyed having a glass of water with a homeless man”.’
Maurice was a high spending practical joke and had a reputation to live up to. There were wild stories of him owning so many Aston Martins that he drove one of them off a pier and left it in the water.
But, says Samantha – who accompanied the Bee Gees on some of their early world tours – “He was always a great dad. There were fun times and a lot of craziness too.
“He would play those really inappropriate jokes. One time a guy came in to audition as a keyboard player and the Bee Gees all sat watching him play and then after he tried out, my dad told him: “Drop your pants and turn round!” – and he did!”
She believes that behind the humorous façade, her father was deeply scarred by his own childhood. By the time Maurice and twin brother Robin were eight, and older brother Barry 11, they were already accomplished performers.
In 1958 their father Hugh moved the family from Manchester to Australia hoping for a better future for them and put the children on the stage. By 1964, they were known as Australia’s Beatles. They had their own TV show and a No 1 hit. They returned to England in 1967 to pursue their musical dream and their career took off.
But Maurice told his daughter that all the time he felt like a servant. She says: “His father was a very hard man. They had to work to make money to keep the family. Dad once said to me, “Every single day for the rest of my life, I will tell you that I love you because my father never did that for me.”’
Maurice found it hard to cope with fame. He married Lulu in 1969 (famously, they met in the BBC canteen during Top Of The Pops show) but they split in 1973. The marriage is said to have been wrecked by his battle with alcoholism, which at the time was kept secret. Then, in 1975, he married Yvonne, the manager of a steak restaurant in Yorkshire. They had two children, Adam, now 29 and studying to be a film director, and Samantha.
Despite all the suffering to which Maurice subjected Yvonne, she is still deeply in love with him as she was in their wedding day. Showing me the memorabilia that fills the villa – the alls of the grand staircase dripping with gold and platinum discs, the display case of awards for his contribution to British music and the racks holding his beloved guitars – her eyes frequently well with tears. Yvonne, in her first full interview since her husband’s death, says “Maurice was drinking before we had the children. I’d drink to keep up with him. He knew he had a problem. He tried to stop for years.
“Being an alcoholic in England was a stigma. Coming here, he felt he could get away from that and the culture of going to clubs and pubs.”
She pauses in front of an elaborate Christmas floral arrangement. Behind it, there is a photograph of Maurice in one of the signature hats that he wore to hide his prematurely thinning hair. He gazes at his handsome young brother, Andy, who is leaning on his shoulder.
Andy tried to become a solo artist but, dwarfed in industry legend by his brothers who wrote and performed more than 50 worldwide hits, he couldn’t cope and became a cocaine addict. He died of an overdose in 1988 five days after his 30th birthday. Yvonne says: “Maurice tried to help Andy but Andy couldn’t be helped.”
Maurice and Yvonne doted on their children but she was shocked when Samantha began to show signs of the family talent.
She recalls: “I knew Sam was talented by the time she was five. She started miming Boys Do Fall In Love and her nanny videoed her. I said, “Oh my. She’s trouble – another performer.”’
By 11, Samantha was performing with her first band, the all girl China Dolls. With his career on the wane, Maurice began giving his daughter singing lessons, honing a sensual and self-assured voice that some critics compare with the young Madonna’s.
Now Samantha’s career as a singer is about to take off and, in a recording studio at the Gibb villa, she is rehearsing tracks for her first album, which is due within the next 12 months.
It has been designed as a tribute to her father by Robin, who will sing on it with Samantha in a dazzling line up that also includes Paul McCartney, rapper Snoop Dogg and Sheryl Crow. But her proudest moment, she says, will be later this year, when she appears with a band she has founded at a spectacular Maurice Gibb memorial concert in New York’s Central Park. She says: “The band is called MEG, for Dad’s initials, Maurice Ernest Gibb. If it weren’t for my dad, none of this would have happened. I owe everything to him.”
Maurice’s final battle started on January 8, 2003, in Florida, during lunch at a diner, when he doubled up in pain with what he thought was indigestion. Yvonne and Samantha declined to comment last night on whether they are pursuing a reported plan to sue the Miami hospital where his intestine burst after doctors failed to detect that he had a twisted bowel. His children and wife were at his bedside when he died.
Samantha says: “We never imagined he would die. He had fought his biggest battle. He was working. He was in his prime. Now it’s very tough. Every time we do anything as a family, we know Dad should be there.
“But he always told us, “Live life fully. You’re born, you pass away, and when that happens to me, don’t be sad.” He believed a person’s spirit is always there.
“When I go on stage at Central Park, I will talk to him. I’ll tell him, “You gave me my voice, now help me show people what I am capable of doing.”’