Singer famous for The Windmills of Your Mind
Born: January 29, 1934 Died: October 22, 2013
Noel Harrison, who has died aged 79, enjoyed an eccentric and eclectic career as a singer, television star, writer and musical performer. His fame peaked twice: first, when he appeared with Stefanie Powers in the TV show The Girl from U.N.C.L.E and second, when he sang the faux-hippie anthem The Windmills of My Mind, which was recorded for the Steve McQueen film The Thomas Crown Affair. It won an Oscar for best song in 1968.
It helped that he was the son of Rex Harrison, the star of My Fair Lady and other films, although his parents divorced when Noel was very young and it was not until he was adult that he established a relationship with his father.
When he was 15, he left boarding school in England to live in Switzerland with his mother, Colette Thomas, who was the first of Rex Harrison's six wives. He learned how to ski and became good at it, later representing Britain in the slalom at the Winter Olympics in 1952 and 1956.
After completing his national service, he contemplated a career in journalism and his father secured him an interview with Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail. However, he changed his mind and instead decided he would pursue a career in music. He made a living playing the guitar in bars and clubs around Europe and in the late 1950s became moderately well-known when he was given a bizarre slot on the BBC programme Tonight singing songs about the news in calypso style.
In the 1960s, he moved to the States and worked as a cabaret singer before recording his first album, Noel Harrison, in 1966. This led to his role in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E, a spin-off from the more famous The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Harrison was one of the two leads of the show, but it was not the hit that The Man from U.N.C.L.E was and it finished after one season.
By this point, though, Harrison had a recording deal and went on to release three more albums, Collage in 1967, Santa Monica Pier the following year and, in 1969, The Great Electric Experiment is Over.
The Windmills of Your Mind was his biggest hit and was recorded in 1968 for the soundtrack of The Thomas Crown Affair. Harrison had no suspicion that it might be successful. For him, it was just another job and he was paid only $500 for it. He was never resentful about the song, though, and appreciated the fame it gave him. "It's great to have a classic like that on my books," he said.
The fact that the song went on to win at the Oscars created a curious first because it was the year after Talk to the Animals also won for best song - it was sung by Harrison's father in the film Doctor Doolittle. Harrison later also followed his father in the role of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady. Sir Rex played him in the movie with Audrey Hepburn; his son played him in a touring stage musical.
Harrison appeared in several other musicals including The Man of La Mancha and The Sound of Music. He also toured with Sonny and Cher and made numerous appearances on television variety shows. He also appeared in Hart to Hart and Love Boat.
In the 1970s, he moved to Canada where he had his own television show. He then moved to Cornwall and released two further albums, Hold Back Time in 2003 and From the Sublime to the Ridiculous in 2010.
He is survived by his wife Lori and five children from his first two marriages.
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