MIAMI BEACH, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Singer Maurice Gibb, one of three brothers whose uniquely recognizable harmonies propelled the Bee Gees to hit songs spanning five decades -- including the blockbuster soundtrack "Saturday Night Fever" -- died early Sunday. He was 53.
Gibb had emerged from Thursday surgery for a sudden intestinal blockage in critical condition, having suffered a heart attack during the procedure.
The far flung fame of the group was evident Sunday as, one by one, Web sites devoted to one of most popular music groups in history lit up in the United States, Europe and Australia with the news that one third of the group was gone.
"We will love and miss him forever," said a banner on an Italian site, beegees.it.
Bassist, guitarist, songwriter and ensemble singer, Maurice died at Miami's Mount Sinai hospital early Sunday after lingering near death for three days while some fans stood outside wishing him well.
The family issued a statement saying, "His love, enthusiasm and energy for life remain an inspiration to all of us."
Maurice Gibb was a twin to Robin and the younger brother of Barry, the two survivors in a group whose fame includes not only the best selling ever "Fever" soundtrack but many of the most purchased hits on several continents. He was easily distinguished in group pictures by his beard and trademark sunglasses and hat.
His voice and personality remained more in the background than that of his two brothers. But he was always considered a vital third of the unique Bee Gees' sound. It was a sound both soothing and soulful at its best, bland and mechanical at its worst, but seemingly always to be found somewhere along the radio music spectrum in many countries.
Years before the movie blockbuster the Gibbs, who collaborated in the creation of their material and tightly chiseled sound, had already outdistanced most of their music industry peers. During one 16-month period they had No. 1 hits in 15 countries. In the year 1978, they had five of the top 10 hits in the United States.
Maurice had been conscious and responsive on Friday but was not to survive the weekend.
Born in the Isle of Man Dec. 22, 1949, Maurice was singing with his brothers when he was 6 years old. Much later, his lavish spending and excessive drinking were problems even in the midst of the group's early outsized successes.
His first marriage to British singer Lulu ended after four years but his second marriage lasted more than two decades and wife Yvonne and their two children were with him at the end.
"Bee Gees," was the elaborated initials of the "brothers Gibb." The group is still active in recent years in music production when not in the recording studio on their own behalf. As the Bee Gees, their most recent album was last year.
Their songs are also among the most recorded by other artists. They have written songs debuted by Barbra Striesand, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and many other top-rank artists. Even if separated from their own recordings, their authorship of other singers' hits would make them one of the most successful songwriting teams in history.
Although closely associated with the disco beat since "Saturday Night Fever" days, the Bee Gees' tightly locked falsetto harmonies have been an instantly recognizable presence on the airwaves for five decades, earning seven Grammy awards and more than 110 million sales.
Their career record sales add up to the fifth largest total, behind the Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Paul McCartney singing alone.
The family lived in Manchester, England, and moved to Brisbane, Australia -- where the then teenage boys adopted the "Bee Gees" moniker as their music career was taking off.
Using the proceeds of their first hit record, they moved back to England in 1966 where their manager was Robert Stigwood, a partner of the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. They finally settled in the 1970s in Miami Beach. At one point they broke up, but got back together in 1974.
The youngest of the four Gibb brothers, Andy, had had his own hits in the late 1970s but did not sing with the group. He died of a heart infection in 1988, at the age of 29.
The group's Web site maintained by Universal Records, featuring music samples, is BeeGeesonline.com.