The woman behind the successful manBarbara Orbison

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In 1968, Barbara Orbison was just 18, and went from Germany to a concert in England by singer Roy Orbison. It had been four years since he had a hit (but what a hit: “Oh, Pretty Woman”). He was fairly down and out; fans had turned away from his style, his first wife had died in an accident, and shortly after that two of his three children were killed in a house fire. But he still had his voice — that voice — that amazing voice. It sounded like “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window,” said Dwight Yoakam; a voice of “passionate intensity” that, Rolling Stone said, made “his love, his life, and, indeed, the whole world [seem] to be coming to an end — not with a whimper, but an agonized, beautiful bang.”

He saw something in her, too, and within months had asked her to marry him; he was 32. “In the ’70s, he was basically rebuilding a life,” Barbara said recently. “He didn’t want to do anything except be somebody in love, with a little money and lots of fun. By the ’80s, he was ready again.” And, as his new manager, she gave him the strength to return to the stage. He became an even bigger sensation — and a best-selling artist — and she kept that going after his 1988 death: in 1989, Orbison became the first musician since Elvis Presley to have two albums in the Top Five at the same time, and in 1991 she hosted a benefit to Roy that raised $1 million to help the homeless in Los Angeles. She also funded Orbison House, a home for the mentally impaired homeless in the city. Barbara Ann Marie Wellhoener Jakobs Orbison died in Los Angeles December 6 (23 years to the day after Roy died, at 52) from pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

From This is True for 11 December 2011