Max Merritt, the ARIA Hall of Fame inductee best known for the soulful songs “Slippin’ Away” and “Hey, Western Union Man”, died Thursday (Sept. 24) in a Los Angeles hospital following a long battle with a rare illness. He was 79.
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand on April 30, 1941, Merritt made his mark when he formed The Meteors in the 1950s and reeled off a string of catchy rock ‘n’ roll numbers, including “Get a Haircut,” “Kiss Curl” and “C’mon Let’s Go.”
Soon, Merritt and his band outgrew Christchurch and by 1962 they’d relocated to Auckland, and later, Australia, where he earned the moniker “king of Soul”.
With the Meteors, Merritt had a No. 2 hit in Australia in 1975 with the soaring ballad “Slippin’ Away” and were signed to Arista Records in the U.K. “Hey, Western Union Man” reached No. 13.
During the ‘60s, Merritt relocated to England, and from the ‘70s he would call the United States home.
From his base in California, he continued to tour Australia and New Zealand regularly until 2007, when he was hospitalized with kidney failure
Merritt was diagnosed with Goodpasture’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the lungs and kidneys.
In October 2007, the Australasian music industry stepped up with the “Concert For Max” at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre. The likes of Daryl Braithwaite, John Paul Young, James Reyne and Ross Wilson joined forces with over 50 musicians and 70 production crew for the event, which raised $200,000 ($191,000) to cover Merritt’s medical bills.
He was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2008 alongside Dragon, Russell Morris and The Triffids.
On the night, Merritt was joined on stage by fellow Hall of Famer Kasey Chambers and Bill Chambers to perform his signature song, “Slippin’ Away”.
Wal Bishop, Merritt’s manager, shared the news of his passing in statement on Friday. “Max had been on dialysis three days every week since he fell ill back in 2007. He really put up a great fight and will be sadly missed by all that knew and loved him,” Bishop wrote.
The late artist had been unable to perform live over the past 13 years but, “when he felt up to it, would go into the studio to record,” Bishop continues. “He even shot a video to go with the tracks, it’s a shame he won’t be around to see it.”
Trade body Recorded Music NZ paid tribute to the late singer. “We’re incredibly saddened to learn that one of our all time greats, Max Merritt has passed away,” reads a social media post. “Kua hinga he totara i te wao nui a Tane. You will be greatly missed Max. Our condolences & sympathies go especially to Max’s family and friends.”
Merritt is survived by his daughter Kelli, son Josh and three grandchildren.