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Remembering a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother

Bobby Hatfield's family and friends celebrate his life and Righteous Brothers career at a memorial service in Irvine. A video of him performing prompts a standing ovation.

November 12, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

Singer Bobby Hatfield, half of the groundbreaking Righteous Brothers, was remembered Tuesday in death for the varied roles he played in his 63 years of life: devoted father of four, loving husband, irreplaceable partner and rock 'n' roll legend.

"Bobby and I were like an old married couple," said Bill Medley, the bass to Hatfield's tenor for 41 years. "Most of all, what I'm going to miss is looking to my right and seeing my friend."

In a nearly 2 1/2-hour memorial service at Mariners Church in Irvine, a parade of family, friends and fellow artists paid tribute to the soulful, Orange County-raised singer -- who, with Medley, brought the sound of black rhythm and blues to a suburban white audience in the 1960s and won a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There aren't many people who sing at their own funeral and get a standing ovation. But Hatfield did when a nearly 40-year-old video of him singing the hit "Unchained Melody" was played.

And the service ended -- appropriately enough -- with another Righteous Brothers song: "Rock and Roll Heaven."

"The whole world is a fan of Bobby's music," friend Roy Hardick said. "But only a fortunate few of us got to know him as a person."

Indeed, it wasn't just Hatfield the artist who was celebrated Tuesday. There was the irrepressible comedian who once sent Christmas cards with a photo of him and Elvis Presley, signed "From Elvis and the King." The rock star who stayed grounded, patiently listening to every fan's memory of how the Righteous Brothers had shaped their youth as if he were hearing it for the first time.

"They would turn and leave and walk away, and you could see that they felt they had just nailed it. They had just told Bobby Hatfield a story that he would always cherish," said his son, Bobby Jr. "That was always his intention.... He was the kindest and most respectful man I've ever known."

Hatfield died in his sleep Nov. 5 in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he was set to perform with Medley. Preliminary autopsy reports indicate Hatfield died of a heart attack, according to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.

Born in Wisconsin and raised in Anaheim, Hatfield worked in his parents' dry-cleaning store and indulged his two loves: sports and music. He eventually chose music, playing with various groups at student dances.

He and Medley teamed up for the first time in 1962 at a college prom. Known as the Paramours, they would change their name after a club date in Orange County when, upon finishing a duet dripping with emotion, a black Marine stood and yelled, "That's righteous, brothers."

Two years later, the Phil Spector-produced masterpiece "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" topped the charts and turned the pair's "blue-eyed soul" into a worldwide sensation.

"I didn't know him as a celebrity," said Pastor Mike Erre of Costa Mesa's Rock Harbor Church, where Hatfield's 22-year-old daughter, Vallyn, is a member.

Like many of his generation, Erre knew of the Righteous Brothers not from the 1960s but from the boost they got when their songs were used on soundtracks of the movies "Top Gun" and "Ghost" more than a decade ago.

He found out about Hatfield the family man from Vallyn. "She would talk about him incessantly.... That's the Bobby Hatfield that I got to know," Erre said. "He was kind, generous and loving.... He was a good man. That is the unanimous testimony."

Vallyn Hatfield's hands trembled as she told of her parents' marriage. "They were perfect for each other," she said. Her voice broke as she recounted how her father had cared for -- and worried about -- her mother, Linda, who suffers from lupus.

"I finally got my dad to come to church with me today," she said, and those in the crowd who were crying stopped briefly to laugh. "I thought it would be my wedding, not his funeral. Not so soon.

"In a way, I'm happy because he's with God now," she added later. "I will be with him someday. I will always be your little girl, Dad."

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