Lena Hilda Zavaroni (4 November 1963 – 1 October 1999) was a Scottish singer and a television show host. At ten years of age, with her album Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me), she was the youngest person in history to have an album in the top ten of the UK Albums Chart. Later she starred in her own television series, made numerous TV guest star appearances, and appeared on stage. From the age of thirteen, Zavaroni suffered anorexia nervosa and also developed clinical depression when she was fifteen. Following an operation to cure her depression, Zavaroni died at the age of thirty-five from pneumonia on 1 October 1999.
|Birth name||Lena Hilda Zavaroni|
|Born||4 November 1963|
Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, UK
|Origin||Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland, UK|
|Died||1 October 1999(aged 35)|
Life and careerEdit
Zavaroni was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire and grew up in the small town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Her parents owned a fish and chip shop. Her father Victor (b. 1939) played the guitar and her mother, Hilda (née Jordan) (c. 1940 – 1989) sang. Zavaroni began singing at age two. Her grandfather Alfredo had emigrated from Italy.
Zavaroni was discovered in the summer of 1973 by record producer Tommy Scott, who was on holiday in Rothesay and heard her singing in a band with her father and uncle. Scott contacted impresario Phil Solomon, which led to his partner Dorothy Solomon becoming Zavaroni's manager.
In 1974 Zavaroni appeared on Opportunity Knocks hosted by Hughie Green and won the show for a record-breaking five weeks running. She followed this with the album Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me), a collection of classic and then-recent pop standards which reached number eight in the UK album chart. At 10 years, 146 days old, Zavaroni remains the youngest person to have an album in the Top 10.
Zavaroni also sang at a Hollywood charity show with Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball in 1974, at which Ball commented, "You’re special. Very special and very, very good," although some sources attribute the words to Sinatra. Following this, Zavaroni guest-starred on The Carol Burnett Show. She also appeared on The Morecambe and Wise Show, in the 1976 Royal Variety Show and performed at the White House for US President Gerald Ford. Signed to the soul-oriented Stax Records label in the United States, Zavaroni was not widely popular in America, despite the praise and television appearances; her Ma album was not listed in the popularity charts, and its title single only reached 91st position on the Billboard Hot 100 during a four-week chart run in the summer of 1974.
Stage and television careerEdit
While attending London's Italia Conti Academy stage school, Zavaroni met and became long-term friends with child star Bonnie Langford. The two starred in the ITV special Lena and Bonnie. In September 1978, the BBC broadcast Lena Zavaroni on Broadway.
From the age of 13, Lena had anorexia nervosa. While she was at stage school, her weight dropped to 4 stone (25 kg, 56 lbs). Lena blamed this on the pressure placed upon her to fit into costumes while at the same time "developing as a woman." She continued to have anorexia throughout the 1980s.
In 1989 she married computer consultant Peter Wiltshire. The couple settled in north London but separated 18 months later. Also in 1989, Zavaroni's mother, Hilda, died of a tranquilliser overdose and a fire destroyed all of her show business mementos.
After the breakup of her marriage, Zavaroni moved to Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to be nearer to her father and his second wife. By this time, she was living on state benefits and in 1999 was accused of stealing a 50p packet of jelly, although the charges were later dropped.
Zavaroni underwent a number of drug treatments and received electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to beat her depression. She begged doctors to operate on her to relieve her depression. Although the operation would not cure her anorexia, she was desperate for it to proceed and threatened suicide if it did not (she also took a drug overdose).
In September 1999 Zavaroni was admitted to University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff for the psychosurgical operation. It took place on 7 September and was described as "pioneering". After the operation, she appeared to be in satisfactory condition and after a week she was "making telephone calls, cheerful and engaging in conversation," even asking her doctor if he thought there was any chance that she would get back on stage and sing again. However, three weeks after the operation, she contracted pneumonia which saw her weight drop to less than five stone (70 lb, 32 kg), and died from bronchial pneumonia on 1 October.
Although some reports said that the surgery was a lobotomy (also known as a leucotomy), the hospital said that it was not, and the treatment was intended for depression rather than anorexia as was rumoured at the time.
Her funeral took place at The Roman Catholic Church of St Augustine in Hoddesdon, on 15 October 1999 and she was buried later that day at Hoddesdon Cemetery in Hertfordshire.. Bonnie Langford spoke of the service on ITV's 20 Moments That Rocked Talent Shows: "I went to Lena's funeral. It was a bit of a circus. As they brought her coffin down, this black butterfly flew off her coffin, and I said 'There she goes'."
- Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me)
- If My Friends Could See Me Now
- The Lena Zavaroni Collection – Pickwick released a two record set in 1976, made up of Lena's first two albums.
- Lena Zavaroni in South Africa
- Presenting Lena Zavaroni
- Songs Are Such Good Things
- Lena Zavaroni And Her Music
- Hold Tight, It's Lena
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1974||"Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me)"||Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me)|
|1974||"Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me)" (Japanese version)||Non-album single|
|1974||"(You've Got) Personality"||Non-album single|
|1975||"You're Breaking My Heart"||Non-album single|
|1975||"Music Music Music"||If My Friends Could See Me Now|
|1976||"Some of These Days"||Non-album single|
|1977||"Air Love"||Presenting Lena Zavaroni|
|1978||"I Should've Listened to Mama"||Songs Are Such Good Things|
|1979||"Somewhere South of Macon"||Non-album single|
|1980||"Jump Down Jimmy"||Non-album single|
|1980||"Will He Kiss Me Tonight?"||Non-album single|
|1981||"Roses and Rainbows"||Non-album single|
|1982||"Hold Tight!"||Hold Tight, It's Lena|
- The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. From the earliest times to 2004. Edited by Elizabeth Ewan, Sue Innes and Sian Reynolds. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
- "UK | Child star Lena dies at 35". BBC News. 2 October 1999. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- "Entertainment | Tragic Zavaroni ruined by illness". BBC News. 2 October 1999. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- Everyhit.com Retrieved 21 April 2006
- Fuller Up Obituary. Retrieved 21 April 2006
- Radio Times, 2–8 September 1978
- "WALES | Inquest told of star's suicide threat". BBC News. 8 December 1999. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- "Wales | Star dies following brain surgery". BBC News. 4 October 1999. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- Ma! (He's Making Eyes at Me) at discogs
- Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me) at Pickwick Group ebay store
- The Lena Zavaroni Collection at discogs
- Lena Zavaroni at The Official Charts Company
- Lena Zavaroni at 45cat
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