Northern Ireland

Remembering Rose-Marie Kane: ‘She was a star, but she the kindest human being you could ever meet’

Co Down-born singer who sold more than 17 million albums died suddenly in Blackpool aged 68

Singer Rose-Marie Kane pictured recording a new song in Manchester a few days before her sudden death
Singer Rose-Marie Kane pictured recording a new song in Manchester a few days before her sudden death

Rose-Marie Kane was one of Ireland’s most successful musical exports, racking up more than 17 million album sales during a career spanning four decades.

As a singer she had legions of fans across Britain, Ireland and around the world and shared stages with some of the industry’s biggest names, from Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash.

She appeared regularly on TV, was a star of musicals and pantomimes, and famously had her long legs insured by Lloyd’s of London.

Instantly recognisable with her flame-red hair and husky voice, Rose-Marie was an entertainer as much as a singer and her larger-than-life personality could command any room.

But above all, to those who knew her best, she was simply “the kindest human being you could ever meet” and her sudden death aged 68 at her Blackpool home left friends both inside and outside showbusiness devastated.

Rose-Marie grew up on a farm at Cloughoge outside Newry, the eldest of six children of Owen and Ann Kane, and her first audience was the cows she milked with her sister early each morning with renditions of Danny Boy.

She and siblings Ann, Madeline and Kathleen would perform as the Kane Sisters in local talent shows and old people’s homes and it was clear from that age Rose-Marie was destined for a life on the stage.

“After a brief and distressing attempt at a hairdressing career that actually saw me cut a client’s ear off, the bright lights of London called,” she said.

“I used to sing for the clients... it made up for ruining their hair.”

Having moved to England, Rose-Marie served a tough but invaluable apprenticeship on the working men’s club circuit.

Her big break came when Belfast comedian Frank Carson helped arrange a record deal with the help of Barney Eastwood: “Frank took me under his wing, and that was the start of it all.”

Rose-Marie would go on to record 19 hit albums and realise a dream of selling out the London Palladium on several occasions.

Her signature tune became Willie Nelson’s Crazy and among her most cherished memories was performing in front of Princess Diana, who told her backstage: “I love your singing, but you made me laugh.”

She became a regular face on television, whether as a judge on the BBC NI talent show Go For It or appearances in Shooting Stars, Doctors and Big Brother’s Little Brother. She also made the big screen in the 2001 film Cold Fish.

She left the UK to spend several years pursuing her career in the US, living in Las Vegas and studying acting in Los Angeles. These experiences would help earn her the role of Mrs Johnstone in the hit musical Blood Brothers.

On returning to England, she divided her time between London and Blackpool, where she lived alone in a house looking across the sea towards her beloved mother.

Predeceased by her father Owen and sister Kathleen, she visited home regularly and wanted to be buried back in Co Down with her family.

Among her closest friends was Steven Smith. He said it was when she did not arrive for a meeting about an upcoming cruise that the alarm was raised and she was found unresponsive on a sofa at her home.

Rose-Marie pictured with her good friend Steven Smith
Rose-Marie pictured with her good friend Steven Smith

Although it was reported she suffered a heart attack, the exact cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Steven said she had enjoyed living on her own, setting out early each morning for long walks along the sea front before meeting with friends or planning her latest project – she was due to stage an ‘Audience with Rose-Marie’ night featuring entertainment and celebrity friends in Blackpool later this month.

A documentary charting her life and career is also being prepared, and she was due to publish her autobiography, A Life of Laughter.

Steven said charity work was also big part of her life, whether working with fellow female celebrities as part of the Lady Ratlings group or highlighting road safety or raising money for the blind.

He said anyone who met Rose-Marie realised she was someone very special straight away.

“She was a star, someone who just lit up a room when she entered and could make you cry with laughter,” he said.

“But she was also someone who would come round to your house and fill your fridge with shopping or give you the last penny out of her purse – she would do anything for a friend.

“She was your best friend, your sister and mother of the year even though she didn’t have any children.”

** The Irish News publishes a selection of readers’ obituaries each Saturday. Families or friends are invited to send in accounts of anyone they feel has made a contribution to their community or simply led an interesting or notable life. Call Aeneas Bonner on 028 9040 8360 or email