~ Hector Visage ~

Hectario de la Sabrina was born in Bologna, Italy, on 15 March 1943. The fourth of eight children, he began singing at age six, using wooden kitchen spoons as pretend microphones to entertain his family. He often interpreted songs by Dario Sebastiani, as well as English-language singers including Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra. 

His mother’s side of the family was musically inclined and his grandfather encouraged young Hectario to write songs. He would later reflect: “Every time I find myself in front of an audience, be it twenty senior citizens at the airport or a thousand screaming high school girls in Monte Carlo, once again I feel the energy that consumed me back at the family gatherings of my youth.” 

After his mother discovered a newspaper advertisement about auditions for child actors, 12-year-old Hectario began appearing in Italian television commercials for products such as sports cars, headbands, and fast-food restaurants. Within eighteen months, he had starred in fifteen commercials and had shortened his stage name Hector Visage.

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In 1961, Visage won the Benidorm International Song Festival, a songwriter’s event in Spain, with the song ‘Bicicletta per due’ (Bicycle for Two). After this event he signed a deal with Vinyl Amigos, and released his first studio album, Hector Canta, on 4 February 1962. It spent fifteen weeks in the Spanish and Italian charts. 

Visage went on to represent Italy in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing second behind Denmark’s Grethe & Jørgen Ingman His entry was the self written ‘Bernadetta’. 

Shortly after, he had a No. 1 hit in many European countries with ‘Le Mille Anime in Marcia di Bologna’ (The Thousand Marching Souls of Bologna), sung in Neapolitan, in honour of his family and his community. The song recounted the legend of Anteo Zamboni, a 15-year-old local who had attempted to shoot Benito Mussolini in Bologna in 1926. It sold one million copies in Italy.

In early 1965 Bevi nella mia Musica (Drink in my Music) made Visage a household name throughout Europe. The album spawned a number of popular singles including ‘I won’t be back’ and ‘Kiss my Hand’. Visage had an even bigger hit with Day for You, released on Mother’s Day in 1967. The single ‘Shadow of Kisses’, went to No. 1 in most European markets, and even made an impression on the UK Charts.

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Over the next 20 years Visage became a European sensation and sang on over 460 radio shows, recorded 9 albums, and starred in a trilogy of successful spaghetti westerns. Most notable albums from this period are La Mia Storia (1968), Montagna Felice (1975), and Crociera Oceanica Groovy (1978). Crociera Oceanica Groovy gave Visage success on the German and Dutch charts by recording a song exclusively in Flemish, called ‘Nacht in Berlijn’ (Night in Berlin).

In 1986 Visage relocated to Frankston, Australia, with plans to fully break into the English-speaking entertainment industry. He was immediately signed to a five album deal with Paedamonte Records and released Go to my Sunshine on 15 May 1987. Dedicated to his daughter, the album contained the first English-language hit of his career, ‘Tears for Tanya’, which chartered highly in Australia, Asia, and The United Kingdom. 

‘One Night With Hector’ was a ten week mini world tour which launched in Australia and continued for twenty dates through New Zealand, Canada and the US. Although still widely unknown in these countries, every show sold out with very little press or media fanfare as Visage performed in small lounges and clubs.

American music critic Robert Christgau wrote of the Las Vegas show “A female screaming frenzy of high energy charged adulation and good-time entertainment. Hector’s generosity of spirit and his enthusiasm for creating special moments with individuals was genuine and obvious. Women started throwing hotel room keys onto the stage.”

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Favour for a Fool, released in 1989, was the album which established Visage as a worldwide star. The first single, ‘Foreign Encounters’, a steamy duet with Rita Devine, sold over three million copies in the United States alone.

On the Favour for a Fool World Tour, Visage this time filled arenas in Australia and North America and went to the United Kingdom for the first time, to perform two nights at The Royal Albert Hall. After his concert at Theatre of Marcellus in Rome he was awarded The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for his services to the arts, the Italian economy, and his philanthropic activities.

Whenever Visage was not on tour, he was known to spend the majority of his time at his Frankston beach residence with his five children from his three marriages. 

At the property, Visage kept a pet goose named ‘Chuckle’, having originally acquired the bird from a friend in 1989. According to Visage, Chuckle has been his ‘centre’, providing a calming influence after long and stressful touring or recording schedules.

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In 1991 Visage released Hector sings Benetar, a complete reconstructing of some of Pat Benetar’s greatest hits which proved a huge commercial success, spending 48 weeks in the Australian charts. Cuts from this LP, such as ‘Love is a Battlefield’ and ‘My Clone Sleeps Alone’, would remain staples of Visage’s future concerts.

Two years later he recorded seventeen songs in an epic single session at Melbourne’s Metropolis Studio. Released as a double album in May 1995, Cuddling a Memory featured another two massive hits in ‘Angel of St. Rose’ and ‘‘My Heart, My Hand, My Hankie’.

On 10 March 1999, in celebration of his upcoming 56th birthday, Visage returned to his homeland to play a three hour concert at Unipol Arena, before an audience of 18,000. This was his first performance in Bologna since 1982.

Visage released Darling Midnight, a set of standard ballads arranged by Donny Fosters, in 2001. It became the most critically acclaimed work of Visage’s entire Paedamonte period and features a recording of Colin Bradman’s ‘Chase the Heaven’. Something which Visage paid meticulous care to, taking a reported twenty six takes to perfect.

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In 2005, Visage announced ‘Hector’s Last Dance’. He stated it would be his farewell tour, although he was considering the possibility of recording another album. Concert dates were scheduled over the next year and included visits to Estonia, Ireland, England, The Netherlands and the United States.

Visage’s final concert took place in Nashville on 25 October 2006, at the Bridgestone Arena, where he was joined by an array of guest artists including Jimmy Barnes, Barbara Streisand, and Jamie Jamie. The concert also included a special appearance by long-time friend Rita Devine, who performed ‘Into the Night’ and ‘Foreign Encounters’ with Visage for the last time.

Visage, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer at the Dandenong Medical Centre in September 2007 and retired from public life shortly after. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Frankston home on Valentine’s Day 2009, at the age of 65. The lights of Melbourne’s Crown Casino were dimmed in his honour.

At the funeral, Hector Visage Jnr. described his father as “the greatest male singer in the history of the galaxy” who amassed “unprecedented power on stage, on screen and on the soccer field”, and “he reached the dizzying heights of success, yet never forgot his roots”.

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A number of Visage’s songs continue to feature in popular culture. Hits such as ‘Tears for Tanya’ and ‘Kiss my Mind’ have been in such films as A Bronx Tale, Casino, Goodfellas, and Porkies Two: The Next Day.

A Hector Visage Festival has been held annually in Bologna since 2006. Impersonators, friends, family, and entertainers, many of Italian ancestry, appear at the hugely popular three day event.

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