Ray Columbus, New Zealand music legend, dies at 74

New Zealand music and entertainment legend Ray Columbus has died at his home north of Auckland after a four-year health battle. He was 74.

The singer, songwriter, bandleader, artist manager and TV star is remembered as NZ's first rock star. He entered the history books as the market's first artist to have a No. 1 hit single abroad when, in 1964, his signature tune "She's A Mod" with the Invaders reached the top spot in Australia.

Born in Christchurch on Nov. 4 1942, Columbus started his career on stage at the tender age of six, emulating his hero Fred Astaire. He got bit by the rock 'n' roll bug as a teen and Columbus' world forever changed. "It was just natural to go from a Fred Astaire childhood, which was my Dad's dream, to all of a sudden dreaming about being old enough to switch to Elvis," he later recalled.

See photos of Ray Columbus through the years:

The performer went on to record a string of hits with The Invaders ("Till We Kissed" also cracked the domestic top 10) and toured Australasia with the likes of Roy Orbison, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Herman's Hermits, The Searchers, Del Shannon, Shirley Bassey, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Ben E King and The Hollies. Columbus also tasted touring life in the United States with The Turtles and Eric Burdon & The Animals.

Over a career spanning more than three decades, Columbus was decorated with every major award in showbiz and beyond, none more prestigious than the Order of the British Empire (OBE), which he received in 1974, and he was appointed to the board of the QE11 Arts Council.

He also scooped Entertainer of the Year, The Benny Award, APRA Silver Scroll (twice for top songwriter), Top Entertainer on TV and Promoter/Manager of the year. In 2009, Ray Columbus and the Invaders were presented with The Legacy Award at the New Zealand Music Awards, and the act was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

"Very sad news," tweeted trade body Recorded Music NZ. "Ray Columbus was always a fierce advocate for our local industry and will be very much missed by a great many. RIP Ray."

The market's Hall of Fame noted, "We're very saddened to hear of the passing of Ray Columbus. A true legend of NZ music, not only a pioneer and consummate showman, but a vocal advocate for the local music industry, not to mention a wonderful person as well. Our condolences go out to Ray's family and many friends; you will be dearly missed."

Columbus suffered a heart attack in 2004 and strokes in 2008 and 2012, and it was later revealed he had an immune deficiency issue. He shared his life story in the 2011 autobiography, Ray Columbus: The Modfather.

Columbus is survived by wife Linda, two children and three grandchildren.