Like most Italian boys, Luciano Pavarotti used to dream of being a soccer star. Instead, he rose to opera stardom and entranced stadium audiences with his singing voice rather than his soccer skills.

Pavarotti died in the early hours of Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

The rotund, black-bearded tenor, regarded by many as the greatest of his generation, shot to fame with a stand-in appearance at London's Covent Garden in 1963 and soon had critics gushing about his voluminous voice.

Perhaps his biggest gift to the music world was when he teamed up with Spanish stars Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras at the 1990 soccer World Cup in Italy and introduced operatic classics to an estimated 800 million people in TV coverage around the globe.

Sales of opera albums shot up after the gala concert in Rome's Baths of Caracalla and strains of Puccini's aria Nessun Dorma, from his opera Turandot, became as much a feature of soccer fever as the usual more raucous stadium chants.

Born in 1935, Pavarotti's father was a baker who liked to sing and his mother worked in a cigar factory. They lived with modest means in a small apartment in Modena but fled to the countryside during World War Two.

He began singing in the local church choir at the age of nine, but his parents wanted him to have a steady job and for a while he worked as an insurance salesman and teacher.

After voice training in the 1950s, Pavarotti discovered he had perfect pitch. He started singing on the operatic circuit and his big break came thanks to another Italian opera great, Giuseppe di Stefano, who dropped out of a London performance of La Boheme in 1963.

Covent Garden had lined up this large young man as a possible stand-in and a star was born.

In 1972 he famously hit nine high C's in a row in Daughter of the Regiment at New York's Metropolitan Opera, which he referred to as my home.

Thirty years later, Pavarotti was still one of the highest paid classical singers even though his public performances were fewer and further between.


Medical problems beset Big Luciano in the final years of his career, forcing him to cancel several dates of his marathon worldwide farewell tour.

In July 2006 he underwent surgery in New York for pancreatic cancer and retreated to his villa in the Italian city of Modena. He said he hoped to resume the tour soon but had to cancel his first planned public appearance a few months later.

I have had everything in life, really everything. And if everything is taken away from me, with God we're even and quits, he said in one of his last interviews.

On the few occasions he performed in the past decade, Pavarotti was criticized for his lack of mobility, sometimes seating his large frame centre stage to belt out the arias.

He was also criticized for dropping out of operas diva-like at the last minute and for failing to hit all the notes, prompting critics to say his voice no longer had the stamina to perform more than a few pieces at a time.

In 1992, he admitted miming to recorded music during what was supposed to be a live concert because he had not prepared. He offered to pay the BBC the full cost of the broadcast.

But fans never stopped praising him.

Pavarotti is the last great charismatic figure of our times. Lovers of 'bel canto' feel a sort of endless admiration for him, singer Andrea Bocelli said in July 2007.

In 2003, Pavarotti married Nicoletta Mantovani, an assistant 34 years his junior and younger than his three daughters, after an acrimonious divorce from his wife of 37 years.

As Nicoletta was bearing twins, the pregnancy ran into complications and their son Riccardo was stillborn.

Distraught at losing his only son, Pavarotti lavished his love on his new daughter Alice and recorded his first solo album in 15 years for her -- this time soft pop rather than opera -- calling it Ti Adoro (I Adore You).

Pavarotti refused to sing at home, not even in the shower, and said he could not bear hearing recordings of himself because as a perfectionist he heard all his wrong notes.

My idea of a nightmare is being invited to dinner and someone putting on a recording of me. It would put me right off my food, he once told an interviewer.

Pavarotti was known fondly as Fat Lucy but reducing his round girth was a battle he kept losing. Carrying around an estimated 127 kilos (280 pounds) brought on the need for knee and hip operations and put a strain on his voice.

Other strains came from his complex finances, which caught the tax man's attention. In 2000, he settled a four-year dispute and paid more than $12 million in Italian back taxes.