Born: April 15, 1962;

Died: May 4, 2021.

IN just over 50 seconds, to the sound of Marvin Gaye’s classic I Heard It Through the Grapevine, a fresh-faced, good-looking 23-year-old from Essex gave the launderette a whole new perception and altered the face of advertising. And in the process he became an icon.

The 1985 advert, in which Nick Kamen peeled off his T-shirt and blue Levi’s 501 jeans and bunged them into a washing machine, was so successful that sales of 501s rose by 800 per cent, according to some estimates. By accompanying music with product in a pastiche of mythical late-1950s/early 1960s America – evoking James Dean, Elvis and bobby soxers – the ad revealed how such synching could be phenomenally successful.

The Levi company says the advert “captured the feeling and spirit of an age, becoming a cultural touchstone of the decade that was instantly recognisable to young Europeans”.

Kamen’s ad spoke of rebellion in a period of the 1980s defined by monetarism and Thatcherism. But it was also a time of growing female empowerment – wide-eyed women could openly lust after men. And here was a gorgeous man stripping down to his boxers and doing his own laundry. What was not to love?

Nick Kamen, who has died, aged 59, from bone marrow cancer, was almost too good-looking, says former GQ Magazine editor Dylan Jones.

“I remember being at a party thrown by Bob Geldof when Nick Kamen walked in, wearing a black T-shirt, a pair of Ray-Ban’s and a pair of bright white jeans”, he said. “My girlfriend, who worked on the door of a ridiculously fashionable nightclub and was therefore not unaccustomed to seeing drop-dead gorgeous male models after dark, looked at him and said ‘You have got to be kidding’.”

Jones’s girlfriend certainly wasn’t alone in being entranced by Kamen. He also caught the attention of Madonna, then the queen of pop. She had been taken by Kamen’s “charisma” and “beautiful voice”, and offered him one of her songs to record. Each Time You Break My Heart (which sounded very Stock, Aitken, Waterman-like) saw Madonna providee backing vocals. The song reached number five in the UK charts in late 1986.

Kamen was soon skirting around the edge of becoming a pop star. And although major success eluded him, he had a number one in Italy (and a number 16 hit in the UK) with a Four Tops’ cover, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.

In Italy, in 1988, he had another chart-topper, Tell Me, with Madonna again providing backing vocals. Two years later he was top of the pops in Austria and Sweden with the song, I Promised Myself.

Though Kamen and Madonna both denied there had ever been a physical relationship between them, she certainly boosted his music career.

Kamen, however, always looked likely to gain at least a degree of fame. “All through my modelling career I was involved in music, I played the bass guitar, I was involved in bands,’ he said. But it was his looks that led to success. He had English, Irish, Dutch and Burmese ancestry, and was born Ivor Neville Kamen in Harlow, Essex, to Neville and Zoe, part of a family of eight children.

Nick and his brother Barry became models, featuring on the likes of such then-notable magazines as The Face and Blitz. It was his modelling agency, Storm, which sent him along for the Levi’s audition. He was told to lose a little weight and was originally cast as a young man who sat in a bath wearing a pair of jeans.

But producers reckoned he would be perfect for the scene in the American laundromat. They were right. Teenage boys bought 501s because they felt they would make them look cool. Teenage girls bought the jeans because they adored the young model who did his laundry.

But while the ad boosted the fortunes of Levi’s, it seemed to have a slightly limiting effect on Kamen’s own career. “I guess because of the advert, people recognise me, and then it’s hard then to be accepted as something else,” he once said. “I kind of understand, because that happens in many other professions. You’ve kind of been boxed in. I’ve still been very fortunate.”

There’s a real sense he would have been happy to run a Covent Garden fashion shop, such as the one he once worked in as a Saturday boy.

In the 1980s and 90s, Kamen continued to receive media attention, thanks to his dating the actress Talisa Soto and supermodel Tatjana Patitz, and then having a romance with the TV presenter Amanda de Cadenet between 1999 and 2001. They had originally dated as 14-year-olds in Essex.

In time the pop bubble burst, his songs far less strong than the stitching on the jeans he had done so much to promote.

Adopting a lower profile, he was rarely seen in public. He worked as a painter of “quite abstract” works, though he dabbled with a return to modelling with a couple of shoots in the 2000s. He rereleased one of his singles in 2004.

Ten years ago, he set up a video company in London with friends, which never really got off the ground. Kamen, who had spent time living on a farm in Morocco, was happy to spend time at his £1 million flat in London’s Notting Hill.

Amanda de Cadenet recalled a boyfriend who was “kind” and “talented” and dedicated to his spirituality and Buddhism. “My experience of you, and our time together, was that you spent much of your days making art, cooking, travelling, and chanting,” she said.

Three years ago, Kamen discovered he was dying of cancer, and tried a range of options to prolong his life, such as stem cell treatment. “He’s known for the past three years that he was going to die but he never felt sorry for himself and lived his life with incredible charm and courage,” said his girlfriend, Lucinda Cary.

There’s little doubt that the jeans icon made not only an incredible impact on the watching world and the epitome of 80s cool. To those who knew him well, Nick Kamen was simply a nice, gentle guy. Boy George declared: “RIP to the most beautiful and sweetest man, Nick Kamen.” Added Madonna: “It’s heartbreaking to know you are gone. You were always such a kind, sweet human and you suffered too much.”