A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Monday, January 24, 2011

When reality hits Eurovision

There will be a long shadow over this year's Icelandic national final as one of the participants, Sigurjón Brink, died unexpectedly at the age of 36.

Apart from the obvious personal tragedy, it creates a delicate dilemma for the Icelandic television who needs to relate to the situation in the best of taste and find a solution that will still look tasteful and fair once the shock fades away and more critical eyes start analysing what you have done and what you haven't done.

I'm not claiming to know everything about Eurovision (is there any such person - and what would he/she look like?) but I can't remember any other situation like this, that a main performer would have passed away right before their planned Eurovision performance.

The closest I can come to think of is Sammy Babitzin (brother of Kirka), who competed in the 1973 Euroviisut and then died in a car crash later than a month after the international final.

Sammy Babitzin & Koivistolaiset - Riviera (Finland NF 1973)

Death did play a part in the 1974 ESC, though. Four days before the final, held on April 6, the French President George Pompidou dies due to an illness largely unknown to the public. France was in shock and, obviously, withdrew from the contest. The French delegation, already on location in Brighton, never performed.

Dani - La vie à 25 ans (France 1974 preview)

However, the grim realities of life were perhaps never more present than in 1993, when Bosnia-Herzegovina debuted under their own flag in Millstreet and produced a preview clip from Sarajevo at war. At that time, we were used to seeing images of civil war from former Yugoslavia on the news, but here they were, singing a song, on our favourite entertainment show. There was no way we could ignore them this time.

Fazla - Sva bol svijeta (Bosnia-Herzegovina 1993 preview)


  1. Eurovision nerd hat on! Am I right in saying one of the writers of Finland 1965 died either before or shortly after that year's national final? Not quite the same thing as the Icelandic situation, of course, but still...

  2. That is correct - Reino Helismaa was dying from cancer when he wrote the lyrics of "Aurinko laskee länteen", and the words deal rather explicitly with the subject of death.

    He died on January 21 and never knew that his song failed to score in Naples.

  3. One of my favourite ever Eurovision moments is the announcing of the televotes from Sarajevo, where the audience erupt into applause and the presenter reveals how difficult it was to establish a phone link to the judge.

    Another difficult moment was the firework factory disaster in the Netherlands that occurred just before the final started. As a result, the Dutch televote was abandoned, and a very grim-faced representative had to deliver the votes. Very sad.

  4. I've always found those Irish/Bosnia moments to be rather uncomfortable, to be honest. 1993: if the phone line's clearly being held together by two bits of string, SHUT UP! 1994: if the conductor's clearly ready to start, SHUT UP!

    But then I've always felt there's a fine line between heartfelt applause and patronising "oh, we've heard of that place, it was on the news!"-type responses, so I'm probably just being unduly cynical here. :-)

  5. One remotely eurovision related death was in 2007, when Kirka Babitzin (yes, brother of Sammy Babitzin who was mentioned above) died just some weeks before he was to participate in the finnish edition of "Strictly Come Dancing".

    THe production company and the MTV3 channel had the same difficult choice to make as the Icelandic tv this year, what to do. This time they decided to hastily find another celebrity to dance on Kirka's place.

    Stricly come dancing is of course no Eurovision, and the death occurred early enough for the decision to be a tasteful one. But this proves once again, that anything can happen in life, even in the fantasyland of show bisness.

    Didn't a host for the Melodifestivalen die just before the actual contest, I seem to recall?


  6. Mikko:
    It was in 1997, when Peter Rangmar was supposed to host Melodifestivalen. He fell seriously ill a matter of days before the final and was replaced in the last second by Jan Jingryd, producer of the show.

    It was later revealed that he suffered from melanoma, and he died in May that same year.