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Death of Belgian rocker Arno sparks outpouring of tributes across the country
Iconic Belgian rock singer Arno has passed away at the age of 72 after battling with pancreatic cancer for the past two years. Despite his illness, the multi-talented artist continued performing during the final months of his life.
The announcement of his death on Saturday prompted an outpouring of tributes for the raspy-voiced, unruly-haired singer who represented a certain ‘Belgitude’ and never shied away from self-derision and expressing his personal opinions.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2019, Arno initially paused his career while undergoing treatment before continuing to stage unforgettable live concerts. The incorrigible performer made his final appearance at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels in February.
Arno Hintjens was born in Ostend, but lived in Brussels since the 1980s. In his trademark slightly shabby black suits, he was a familiar sight around his home neighbourhood of Saint-Catherine.
The veteran rocker, often called Belgium’s Tom Waits, was a rare performer whose popularity transcended the nation’s linguistic borders. He sang in English, French, Dutch and occasionally his native Ostend dialect.
Tributes from politicians across Belgium
With Arno an honorary citizen of Brussels, mayor Philippe Close was quick to react to the news of his death. “We will no longer see his silhouette in the Sainte-Catherine quarter. Putain, putain, we miss him already…,” he tweeted, referencing one of the singer’s famous hits.
Prime minister Alexander De Croo tweeted :“Rest in peace, Arno. It was wonderful!”, referring to another of the singer’s hits, C’était magnifique.
The Belgian royal palace tweeted a photo of the musician with King Philippe (pictured) in the following tribute: “Arno was an endearing personality and an incredibly talented artist. His songs will be with us for a long time to come. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones."
Politicians from all regions celebrated Arno’s ‘Belgitude’ with Elio Di Rupo paying hommage to his reputation as a national icon. “Arno was one of the greatest Belgian artists. His special style reflected an exceptional talent and unfailing determination to assert his status as a Belgian of the North, the South and the Centre.”
Long, prolific and varied career
Boasting a career spanning more than six decades, Arno first stepped onto the stage at a summer festival in Ostend in 1969, reports RTBF. His major breakthrough was with his band TC Matic in the 1980s, whose experimental and provocative sound drew fans from across Europe. The group’s first album mixed funk, new wave and hard rock as well as elements of French chanson. Oh la la la and Putain, putain were among their biggest hits.
It was in the early 1980s that Arno’s career took an unexpected turn when he briefly became Marvin Gaye’s chef and friend. The American soul star had taken refuge in Ostend to recover from his addictions.
When TC Matic split in 1986, Arno launched a long solo career with Forget the Cold Sweat and Les Yeux de ma Mère among his notable tracks. He released numerous albums, often collaborating with friends. In 1993, the singer went to Nashville to record Idiots Savants, which included a cover of Adamo’s Les Filles du bord de mer.
In 1994, he made his second foray into the world of film music with the original soundtrack for Personne ne m’aime. After dedicating a large part of his career to recording in English, he released his first album in French in 1995, A la française. It included Les Yeux de ma mère, which earned him superstar status in France.
A year later, he moved into cinema with his first acting role as a homosexual lifeguard in Jan Bucquoy’s cult film Camping Cosmos.
Arno’s musical career continued with the formation in 1998 of a new blues rock band, Charles and the White Trash Blues. Its theatrical cover of the Kinks’ Death of a Clown was one of its memorable songs.
Alongside signer BJ Scott in 1999, Arno released an explosive version of Bowie’s Jean Genie, mixed intriguingly with La Fille du Père Noël by Dutronc. Another collaboration, this time with Jane Birkin, produced a cover of Elisa by Serge Gainsbourg in 2002.
The final decades of Arno’s career were rewarded by a number of honours, including a Victoire music award in 2005 for the best pop-rock album of the year.
And the collaborations rolled on, including a performance with Stromae of his classic hit Putain, putain at the Victoire music awards in 2012.
The album releases also continued, frequently with new producers and musicians. If the ever-restless musician was forced to cancel some live concerts in his latter years, each time he would announce a return to the stage with the typically caustic response. “It's okay. The flowers are too expensive, I told myself that I would wait to die.”
Ostend to commemorate singer’s life
The coastal town of Ostend plans a series of events to celebrate the singer’s life, reports Belga. A register of condolences (also online) was set up shortly after the announcement of his death. It’s open at the De Grote Post cultural centre from Sunday to 30 April, 12.00-20.00.
The wall of the town hall bearing his effigy will be illuminated and passers-by can listen to some of his most famous songs at 19.00, 20.00 and 21.00. A special screening of Dominique Deruddere's documentary on Arno's life is also scheduled.
The town hall’s flags have been lowered to half-mast and Arno’s ashes will be dispersed in the North Sea from Ostend beach.
Photo: Arno performing at the Kursaal concert hall in Ostend on 25 February 2022 © Belga/Jonas Roosens