Roy Orbison Biography

Roy Orbison was an American singer and songwriter. This biography profiles his childhood, music career, life, achievements, trivia and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: April 23, 1936

Nationality: American

Famous: Pop Singers Rock Singers

Died At Age: 52

Sun Sign: Taurus

Also Known As: Roy Kelton Orbison

Born in: Vernon

Famous as: Singer-songwriter

Height: 5'11" (180 cm), 5'11" Males


Spouse/Ex-: Barbara Orbison, Claudette Frady

children: Alexander Orbison, Roy Kelton Orbison, Wesley Orbison

Died on: December 6, 1988

place of death: Hendersonville

U.S. State: Texas

More Facts

education: Odessa College, Wink High School

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Roy Kelton Orbison was an American singer and songwriter and one of the gems of rockabilly. He is the one who perhaps had the most distinguished, commanding, flexible and quirky voice amongst all the pop singers ever. Although, he did not have moves like Presley, Killer looks like the Beatles and chic style like Sinatra but what he did have was this very powerful and romantic voice that used to awestruck people. He belonged to a working class family and paved his own way to success in his musical career. Despite the fact that he faced many obstructions in the beginning, he did not flinch from his love for music and singing even for a day. His voice is recognized as a very peculiar three-octave one, mingled with his unconventional writing and looks and made him a favorite amongst the rockabilly fans. Rightly so, Presley once addressed to Orbison standing in the crowd in Vegas, attending his concert, as ‘quite simply, the greatest singer in the world, Roy Orbison’. He is still dearly remembered for the most romantic song he gave to the world—‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, which was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, posthumously and was named one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Roy Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Texas to Orbie Lee Orbison and Nadine Shultz. His father was a car mechanic and an oil well driller and his mother was a nurse. His parents lost their jobs during the Great Depression.
  • Orbison family moved to Forth Worth during the Depression, which is where he spent his childhood. Orbison went to the Denver Avenue Elementary School only until the family moved and settled in Wink.
  • Orbison was a shy kid, full of self-doubt and under-confidence but singing was something that he was quite confident about and he always became the centre of attention whenever he was asked to sing at a gathering.
  • At the Wink High School, he formed an informal band with friends called ‘The Wink Westerners’ and managed to get a radio spot for themselves. Later, he attended the North Texas State College and planned to study geology.
  • Here, he formed another band called, ‘The Teen Kings’ and started singing professionally during the nights. A result of which his grades dropped and he had to enroll himself in Odessa Junior College.
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  • ‘The Teen Kings’ was offered a contract at the Sun Records and they travelled to Memphis for recording and their famous composition ‘Ooby Dooby’ peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 200,000 copies.
  • The band broke apart during the late ‘50s because of disputes over writing credits, but Orbison decided to stay and work on his technical skills. He gradually stopped recording, toured music circuits to make a living but quit completely in 1958.
  • He came back on track again with ‘Nashville Sound’ and signed a deal with the record company in 1960—aspiring to polish his talent all the more this time. His ‘Uptown’ earned a spot on the Billboard Top 100.
  • ‘Only the Lonely’, written and recorded in 1960, became Orbison’s ladder to success. It reached at No.2 on the Billboard Top 100 and made him a hot shot in the musical world.
  • He was much in demand now and toured all over America for three months and it was followed by another hit track, ‘Blue Angel’, which ranked at No.9 and then ‘Claudette’ and ‘I’m Hurtin’—but these did not do as well.
  • From 1960-1965, Orbison was at the peak of his career as he recorded nine Top 10 hits and ten Top 40—‘Running Scared’, ‘Crying’, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, etc. These were sung in Orbison’s unconventional style, which was extremely famous now.
  • A tragedy struck Orbison’s life in the late 1960s when he lost his wife and two sons. It had such a great impact on his psychology that he could not produce hits anymore. Also, rockabilly had lost its charm anyway.
  • Orbison’s musical career revived again in the 1980s when he accompanied Eagles to their ‘Hotel California’ tour, recorded a Grammy winning duet with Emmylou Harris, ‘That Lovin’ You Feeling Again’ and his country vocal collaboration with k.d. lang.
  • Orbison had managed a successful comeback by the late 1980s and joined the all-star super group ‘The Traveling Wilburys’, alongside Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and George Harrison and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Major Works
  • Orbison will always be remembered for his unconventional style of singing and all his songs are his legacy but ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ is the song that stands apart. The song was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, posthumously.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Orbison earned six Grammy, some when he was alive and rest posthumously. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and was named one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
  • He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Song writers Hall of Fame while he was still alive and Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after his death.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Orbison married his 16 year old girlfriend, Claudette Frady in 1957. They had three sons together: Roy Dewayne, Anthony King and Wesley.
  • Claudette died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1966 and two years later Orbison lost two of his eldest sons to house fire, Roy Dewayne and Anthony King.
  • He married for the second time to Barbara Orbison in the year of 1969 and remained married to her until his death. The couple had two children together: Roy Kelton Orbison Jr. and Alex Orbison.
  • Orbison died of a heart attack in Tennessee at the age of 52 on December 6, 1988. Although he complained about recurring chest pains and exhaustion from a long time to his friends and family but he never did anything about it.
  • Towards the end of his life, he became close friends with Johnny Cash and k.d. lang.
  • He was voted the 37th Greatest Artist in Rock 'n' Roll by Rolling Stone.
  • He was close friends with Elvis Presley and actor Martin Sheen.
  • His first hit song ‘Only the Lonely’ was first offered to Elvis Presley to sing but he rejected it due to practical constraints.
  • He recorded the song ‘Hound Dog Man’ in the memory of Elvis Presley.
  • Marvel Comics’ ‘Doctor Octopus’ is said to be based on this famous American Singer-songwriter.


Grammy Awards
1998 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1991 Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male Winner
1990 Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Winner
1989 Best Country Vocal Collaboration Winner
1987 Best Spoken Word or Non-musical Recording Winner
1981 Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Winner

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