Engelbert Humperdinck is back
The king of love
By Serena Kappes
(PEOPLE) -- Singer Engelbert Humperdinck has just one complaint about his female fans' habit of throwing their undergarments onstage as a show of appreciation: "I usually think it's a waste because none of the underwear fit me," he says with a laugh.
All jokes aside, it's clear that after four decades of performing live, the balladeer who first hit it big in 1967 with the song "Release Me" still relishes every moment of it. "It's not work for me -- it's a way of life," he explains. "As long as the people out there want me, and my name is on that marquee, I'm out there for them."
Today, Humperdinck, 66, continues to tour the world about 140 days a year, giving audiences what they've come to expect -- passionate love songs from the honey-voiced man dubbed the King of Romance.
Recently, Humperdinck released the album "Definition of Love," which includes covers of Elvis Presley's "Love Me" and the Beatles' "Penny Lane." As it happens, Humperdinck's "Release Me" kept "Penny Lane" from reaching the top spot on the U.K. charts in 1967. But Humperdinck has no illusions that a new release from him will make the charts. "As long as I give [my fans] new material and they can buy it and listen to it, it's fine with me," he says.
Recording new material is something Humperdinck doesn't take for granted. For several years in the 1970s, though he was touring constantly, his then-managers kept him out of the studio. "They were money-grabbers and just kept me on the road. It destroyed my recording career for a while," he says.
But overcoming obstacles is old hat for Humperdinck, born Arnold George Dorsey in Madras, India. The son of Mervyn, a British Army officer, and Olive, a homemaker, he moved with his family to Leicester, England, when he was 7. The ninth of 10 kids, young Arnold dreamed of becoming a famous saxophone player. "I found out that I wasn't that good, but the voice was better than the instrument," he says. "So my instrument became my throat."
Joining the British Army
After high school, the young singer with the rugged good looks began pursuing music but took a two-year hiatus to join the British Army. Once done with his military duty, in the late 1950s, Humperdinck -- then going by the name Gerry Dorsey -- began appearing on British television shows. By 1959, he "started to top the bill in England as a pop singer with no hits, [it was] just television that made me somebody."
But Humperdinck encountered a roadblock to pop stardom when he contracted tuberculosis in 1961. "I don't know how I developed it -- I think through starvation because times were tough," he says.
By 1962 he was well again, but it wasn't until 1965, when he met up with manager Gordon Mills, that his fate changed. Mills renamed Dorsey Engelbert Humperdinck, after the Austrian composer who turned "Hansel & Gretel" into an opera. "It was quite a mouthful," says Humperdinck, laughing. "For me to take that name and turn it into a romantic image, it was quite a task."
With 1967's "Release Me," the sideburns-sporting Humperdinck became a sex symbol -- and a bona fide chart-topper. "My feet never touched the ground," he says. Yet the King of Romance has always been a one-woman man: He has been married to wife Patricia for 38 years, and they have four children ranging in age from 27 to 37 -- Bradley, an aspiring pop singer; Scott, a music booking agent; Jason, a clothing retail salesperson; and Louise, a songwriter-producer.
Humperdinck continued his fame with albums such as 1969's gold-selling "The Last Waltz," 1972's "Another Time, Another Place" and hit singles such as 1976's "After the Lovin'." And he became -- along with friend Tom Jones -- a Las Vegas regular, playing to sold-out houses. Throughout the 1980s, Humperdinck continued to tour and in 1987 released the comeback album "Remember I Love You."
Most recently, Humperdinck has been busy in the studio, recording albums such as 2000's "Engelbert at His Very Best" and the recent "Definition of Love." And the singer, who has homes in Los Angeles and Leicester, England, still gets a charge from recording. "That's one of the most wonderful times in my life," he says.