Lena Zavaroni

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Lena Zavaroni
Lena Zavaroni 927-0962.jpg
Lena Zavaroni at age 10 in front of a miniature of the Peace Palace in Madurodam (1974).
Background information
Birth name Lena Hilda Zavaroni
Born (1963-11-04)4 November 1963
Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, UK
Origin Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland, UK
Died 1 October 1999(1999-10-01) (aged 35)
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1974–1986

Lena Hilda Zavaroni[1] (4 November 1963 – 1 October 1999) was a Scottish child singer and a television show host. With her album Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me) at ten years of age, she is the youngest person in history to have an album in the top ten of the UK Albums Chart. Later in life she hosted TV shows and appeared on stage. From the age of 13 Lena suffered from anorexia nervosa which became clinical depression two years later at the age of 15. Lena died at the age of 35 from pneumonia.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Lena was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, and grew up in the small town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute with musical parents, who owned a fish and chip shop. Father Victor Zavaroni played the guitar, mother Hilda sang, and Lena herself sang from the age of two. Her grandfather immigrated from Italy.[2]

She was discovered in the summer of 1973 by record producer Tommy Scott, who was on holiday in Rothesay and heard her singing with her father and uncle in a band. Scott contacted impresario Phil Solomon, which led to his partner Dorothy Solomon's becoming Lena's manager.

Career in music[edit]

In 1974 Lena appeared on Opportunity Knocks hosted by Hughie Green and won the show for a record-breaking five weeks running. She followed this with the album Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me), a collection of classic and then-recent pop standards which reached number eight in the UK album chart. At 10 years, 146 days old, Lena is still the youngest person to have an album in the Top 10.[3][4]

Lena also sang at a Hollywood charity show with Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball in 1974, at which Ball commented, "You’re special. Very special and very, very good," although some sources attribute the words to Sinatra. Following this, Lena guest-starred on The Carol Burnett Show. She also appeared on The Morecambe and Wise Show, the 1976 Royal Variety Show and performed at the White House for US President Gerald Ford. Signed to the soul-oriented Stax Records label in the United States, Lena was not widely popular despite the praise and television appearances; her Ma album was not listed in the popularity charts, and its title single only reached 91st position on the Billboard Hot 100 during a four-week chart run in the summer of 1974.[5]

Stage and television career[edit]

While attending London's Italia Conti Academy stage school, Lena met and became long-term friends with child star Bonnie Langford. The two starred in the ITV special Lena and Bonnie.[5]

On Wednesday 6 September 1978,[6] the BBC broadcast Lena Zavaroni on Broadway.

In 1979 Lena had her own TV series on the BBC called Lena Zavaroni and Music, and from 1980 to 1982 she had a TV series called Lena.

Later years[edit]

From the age of 13, Lena suffered from anorexia nervosa. While at stage school, her weight dropped to 4 stone (25 kg). Lena blamed this on the pressure placed upon her to fit into costumes while at the same time she was "developing as a woman."[3] She continued to suffer from anorexia throughout the 1980s.

In 1989 she married computer consultant Peter Wiltshire. The couple settled in north London but separated 18 months later. Also in 1989, Lena's mother, Hilda, died of a tranquilliser overdose and a fire destroyed all of her showbiz mementos.[3]

After the breakup of her marriage, Lena moved to Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to be nearer to her father and his second wife. By this time, she was living on state benefits and in 1999 was accused of stealing a 50p packet of jelly, although the charges were later dropped.[3]


Lena underwent a number of drug treatments and received electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to beat her depression. She begged doctors to operate on her to relieve her depression. Although the operation would not cure her anorexia, she was desperate for it to proceed and threatened suicide if it did not (she also took a drug overdose).[7]

In September 1999 Lena was admitted to University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff for the psychosurgical operation. It was described as "pioneering".[7] After the operation, she appeared to be in a satisfactory condition and after a week she was "making telephone calls, cheerful and engaging in conversation," even asking her doctor if he thought there was any chance that she would get back on stage. However, three weeks after the operation, she developed a chest infection and died from bronchial pneumonia on 1 October. She weighed less than five stone (70 lb, 32 kg).[2][7]

Although some reports said that the surgery was a leucotomy (also known as a lobotomy), the hospital said that it was not, and the treatment was intended for depression rather than anorexia as was rumoured at the time.[7][8]


Lena was buried at Hoddesdon Cemetery.[9]
Burial Register Summary[10]
surname: Zavaroni
forename: Lena
burial date: 15 Oct 1999
authority: Broxbourne Borough Council
location: Hoddesdon Cemetery (Hertfordshire)




Year Title Peak chart positions Album
UK [14][15]
1974 "Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me)"
Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me)
1974 "Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me)" (Japanese version)
Non-album single
1974 "(You've Got) Personality"
Non-album single
1975 "You're Breaking My Heart"
Non-album single
1975 "Music Music Music"
If My Friends Could See Me Now
1975 "Smile"
Non-album single
1976 "Some of These Days"
Non-album single
1977 "Air Love"
Presenting Lena Zavaroni
1978 "I Should've Listened to Mama"
Songs Are Such Good Things
1979 "Somewhere South of Macon"
Non-album single
1980 "Jump Down Jimmy"
Non-album single
1980 "Will He Kiss Me Tonight"
Non-album single
1981 "Roses and Rainbows"
Non-album single
1982 "Hold Tight!"
Hold Tight, It's Lena


  1. ^ The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. From the earliest times to 2004. Edited by Elizabeth Ewan, Sue Innes and Sian Reynolds. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
  2. ^ a b "UK | Child star Lena dies at 35". BBC News. 1999-10-02. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Entertainment | Tragic Zavaroni ruined by illness". BBC News. 1999-10-02. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  4. ^ Everyhit.com Retrieved 21 April 2006
  5. ^ a b Fuller Up Obituary. Retrieved 21 April 2006
  6. ^ Radio Times, 2–8 September 1978
  7. ^ a b c d "WALES | Inquest told of star's suicide threat". BBC News. 1999-12-08. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  8. ^ "Wales | Star dies following brain surgery". BBC News. 1999-10-04. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  9. ^ Paterson Family Tree
  10. ^ "deceasedonline". deceasedonline. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  11. ^ Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me) at discogs
  12. ^ Ma! (He's Making Eyes At Me) at Pickwick Group ebay store
  13. ^ The Lena Zavaroni Collection at discogs
  14. ^ Lena Zavaroni at The Official Charts Company
  15. ^ Lena Zavaroni at 45cat

External links[edit]