Despite his 85 years, it is unusual that things have gone quiet around Tony Marshall. After all, for 60 years he was considered the greatest mood cannon.
The tones have become quieter and the man slimmer, much slimmer. He no longer wears the fuzzy curly wig that was once his trademark. His blazing stage dominance has turned into an age-mild friendliness. Tony Marshall will be 85 on February 3rd.
Just a few years ago, the entertainment industry had given him the motto: once Tony Marshall, always Tony Marshall! It was so seductive to boil down the pop star’s life to this catchy formula. But it’s not that easy.
On the one hand, the “nation’s merrymaker”, whose super hit “Schöne Maid” had half of Germany clapping and stomping along, found that the German hit was being treated far too “neglected” and that it needed a bigger stage. On the other hand, years ago he complained in an interview with “Zeit” that he was “almost suffocating in the ‘Schlagerfuzzi’ drawer”.
Tony Marshall is a trained opera singer
Tony Marshall was happy and often to point out that he actually came from classical music and was trained as an opera singer at the Karlsruhe University of Music. He proved that in 2005 as Papageno in Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”.
And in 2008 he appeared in the musical “Anatevka” as Tevje – to the delight of audiences and critics. An Israeli journalist came on stage after the performance and said of his portrayal of the Jewish milkman: “I’ve seen them all, all the Tevyes in the world. And you know what? Tony Marshall is the best!”
This was the other side of the mood cannon, the original Tony Marshall if you will. The boy from the time when his name was Herbert Anton Bloeth. He later named himself Hilger after his mother because his children shouldn’t be named Bloeth and that’s not a good name for a budding artist.
He has always loved to sing and is good at it. In 1954, at the age of 16, he applied to work as a tenor in the choir of what was then Südwestfunk (today SWR) in his hometown of Baden-Baden. The film “The Great Caruso” had inspired him. He was accepted after the first audition.
It was his first personal exposure to the entertainment world. “I was confronted with great artists who were previously only known from the radio. We sang the choir for everyone who made recordings here,” he told SWR. These stars included, for example, the international singer Caterina Valente (92).
From melancholic chansonnier to mood cannon
After studying music in Freiburg and Karlsruhe, the young man wanted to become a chanson singer, like the great chansonniers Adamo (79), Gilbert Bécaud (1927-2001) or Jacques Dutronc (79). His role model: Charles Aznavour (1924-2018). He was given the stage name Tony Marshall. The song “Aline” was written for him, the German version of the French super hit by Christophe in 1965.
“Aline” was his first record. Because their success was so modest, Tony Marshall first opened a pub in Baden-Baden. Music producer Jack White (82) visited him there in 1968. On the very first evening, he realized that happy music would go much better with Tony than this very melancholic song about his great love “Aline”, who had disappeared and left him sad.
Marshall didn’t want to sing “The Beautiful Maid” at first
And because Jack White brought a folk song from the South Sea island of Tahiti and also had a German text ready, “Schöne Maid” was written in 1971. At first, Tony Marshall wasn’t thrilled. “When you come from classical music, then you interpret sophisticated chansons and suddenly you’re supposed to sing “Hopsasa und Trallala” – that was a phase that I had to get used to first”. But he was a young father and needed the money.
Actually, he didn’t want to sing the song at all. So he drank copious amounts of Chianti wine before recording and headed into the studio feeling bummed, hoping Jack White would kick him out if he found out about his condition. Everything turned out very differently.
“Beautiful Maid” was a direct hit. The record came out at carnival time. In the TV show “Mainz, wie es sings und laught”, an absolute ratings hit, he had his first big appearance in front of the camera with “Schöne Maid”. People went wild with excitement. From then on he was the “nation’s cheer-maker”.
In the first year alone he sold over a million records, hit the charts, appeared on TV shows – the birth of a big hit star. Other hits followed, such as “Junge, die Welt ist schön”, “Holla Hopsassa”, “Täterätätätä”, “Today we hit the drum”, “Hands to the sky” and many more. Tony Marshall went on world tours (Japan, North America, Africa), sold over 20 million records, became an honorary citizen of his native town of Baden-Baden – and of Bora Bora.
He had sung about the South Seas Atoll in 1978, again based on an exotic folk tune brought back from Polynesia by Jack White. When Tony visited the island “after a 24-hour flight”, “the locals were lined up in front of the hotel and loudly sang my song ‘Bora Bora’,” he reported to “Zeit”.
Scandal-free life with health setbacks
In contrast to many colleagues in his industry, the “merry maker” has not afforded any scandals. He still lives with his first wife Gabi – “she is my goddess” – together. On June 2, 2022, the couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary (married 60 years). His two sons Marc (59) and Pascal (56) are also singers and entertainers. Daughter Stella (44) has suffered from a cerebral movement disorder and epilepsy since birth.
The many years have left their mark on Marshall. After suffering from diabetes, he lost almost 40 kilos and he hasn’t worn the curly wig for over ten years. In addition, there were other health blows: He has a pacemaker and suffers from the nervous disease polyneuropathy with symptoms of paralysis in his leg.
He also suffered a stroke in 2019 and later became seriously ill with Corona, about which he said to “Bunte”: “I’m tough, but it hit me badly, I was in intensive care for two weeks. I have to go to dialysis three times a week , have heart problems and painful complications from diabetes. My body was actually barely able to survive this disease, but I was lucky again.”
Last performances in the past year
In 2022 he had his last appearances. In the theater of his hometown Baden-Baden. The regional newspaper “Badische Latest News” wrote with emotion: “An old man with a hat slowly sits down on crutches at a wooden table and looks into the camera in the penumbra… His face has narrowed, his eyes are big and awake, his voice is still powerful . Marshall says goodbye, it seems.”
Then he sings: “Look at me, the old man, my life was full of happiness.” It’s a song from his last album “The Last Dream” from 2021. He has since retired from the public eye. Not a big party for your 85th birthday, a good meal, a glass of wine with your immediate family. For him, “every day is now time! And I celebrate that!” He told “Schlager Radio”.