Barbara Orbison, the widow of rock-and-roll architect Roy Orbison, died at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center on December 6, 2011, on the 23rd anniversary of her husband’s death. Orbison lost a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 60 years old.
In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Orbison was a savvy music publisher and manager, BMI songwriter and proud steward of her husband’s legacy.
“Barbara Orbison’s passion for her beloved Roy’s otherworldly voice and extraordinary gift for writing songs, has never been in question,” said longtime friend Del Bryant, BMI President & CEO. “Her love for and belief in the gentle and shy soul behind the trademark dark glasses helped elevate him from star to pop culture icon. In fact, Barbara could have taught a Harvard Business School course in global branding. She was always ‘working for the man’ and for the beautiful sons they shared. Her feverish work ethic, take-no-prisoners style and success ultimately made her as iconic as Roy. She was totally unique and she will be deeply missed. Our only solace is that our Pretty Woman joins the love of her life, on the anniversary of his death. Now that’s true love.”
Born in Bielefeld, Germany, Barbara met Roy in 1968 when she was 17 years old and he was in the midst of a U.K. tour. They married the next year. She managed her husband’s career throughout the 1980s, a prolific time of reinvigorated interest in and appreciation not only of his classic 50s and 60s catalog, but of his potent new output as well, from original solo recordings and Grammy-winning duets with Emmylou Harris and k.d. lang, to his work with the iconic Traveling Wilburys, whose debut album Mystery Girl was released in 1988, the year he died.
The same year, Barbara dreamed up and helped produce the now legendary television special Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles, k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes and Bonnie Raitt.
In 2010, Barbara’s music publishing company Still Working Music earned BMI Country Song of the Year honors for Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” Still Working Music and Orbison Music LLC have garnered 21 BMI Awards over the years as songs from their publishing repertoires consistently rank among the year’s 50 most-performed. All together, Barbara Orbison’s publishing catalog has surpassed an impressive 16 million performances.
Orbison is survived by her sons Wesley Orbison, Roy Kelton Orbison, Jr. and Alexander Orbison.