The Righteous Brothers, That Lovin' Feelin'... and why I'll never stop hunting the man who murdered my wife


Bill Medley toured with The Beatles and performed in Vegas during the Rat Pack era, but tragically in 1976, his ex-wife was murdered
'Our relationship was very complicated,' said Bill Medley of his relationship with Bobby Hatfield

Everything seemed normal on January 30, 1976 as my ex-wife Karen returned from dropping her younger son Damien off at school.
She entered her Hermosa Beach house [in California] through the back door she always left open.
Her two closest girlfriends had plans to go for breakfast with her that morning.
They saw her pull into her drive, and thought she’d be ready in a minute.
There had been a strange-looking man around the neighbourhood the past couple of days, and they wanted to tell her about that. Why they didn’t just call the police, I’ll never know.
When they rang a little while later and nobody answered, they went over.
Karen’s crutches were on the floor – she had broken her leg trying to ride our ten-year-old son Darrin’s skateboard.
Her friend shouted her name and got no response.
They could hear whimpering. As they went into the hall, a man stepped out.
‘Hi girls,’ he said, then walked out of the front door.

The pair ran to find Karen on the floor of her bedroom. The man had tried to rape her and strangled her with her own bra. She hadn’t had oxygen to her brain for 15 minutes. She was barely alive.
That morning, Darrin and I were on our way to the Californian resort of Lake Arrowhead, and had stopped off to see relatives.
When we arrived, they told us they had heard Karen had been beaten up, there was an attempted rape, but they didn’t know how bad it was.
We shot back to Hermosa and went straight to the hospital. I hate to remember the sight of this beautiful young girl with that horrified look on her face.
They told me to sit there, hold her hand and talk to her because they didn’t know what she could hear or understand. It was the hardest thing in the world for me to do. Karen and I were still so close.
I told her, ‘You’re gonna be fine. We’re going to get through this. The kids are going to be great. I love you.’
But doctors soon realised that if by any chance she lived, she was going to be brain-damaged.
Finally, they closed her eyes. And four days after the attack, they took her off life-support.
Darrin was inconsolable, with deep wailing sobs. ‘No! No, I need her!’
I’ll never forget the first Mother’s Day after Karen passed. All the children in school had to write a Mother’s Day card for their moms.
Darrin wrote me a Father’s Day card. I can still see Darrin and his five-year-old brother Damien standing in the bathroom at my beach house, brushing their teeth getting ready for bed. These two beautiful little boys – it just broke my heart.
I was sad and incredibly angry at the same time; I wanted to find the son-of-a-bitch who killed their mom.

The police have never solved the crime, and the case remains open to this day. But every few years it pops up again, like a kick in the gut.
In the early days of the Righteous Brothers, it was only Karen who got me through.
I first noticed her at church, and then, when Bobby Hatfield and I unveiled our first single, Little Latin Lupe Lu, at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach, California in 1963, I saw her in the middle of a thousand beautiful young girls. When we got off  stage, I got her phone number and we started dating.
The Righteous Brothers started out in Orange County, California. It was about the whitest place in the country, but the black marines from the nearby base heard there were two guys singing rhythm and blues, so they came down to hear us.
At the end of our songs they’d yell out, ‘That’s righteous, brother!’ and that’s how we got our name.
When our first single took off, all of a sudden it was packed wherever we performed; I mean, you couldn’t get in. Even Elvis and his guys came to see us at a little bowling alley. We were like kids in a candy store.
The Beatles asked us to be on their first American tour, because we were white guys who sounded black, which they loved. We got to know them pretty well.
They were as knocked out with what was happening as everybody else. John and Paul especially were goofy, Ringo was funny but a little more serious, and George was very serious, a real musical guy.
We did 50 dates, many in outdoor stadiums.
It was scary – they’d put up a fence in front of the stage and all these kids were being crushed against it.
I thought they turned the lights on as soon as The Beatles went on stage, but it was camera bulbs, lighting the place up.

Karen and I married when she became pregnant and our little world started to explode. I was on tour with The Beatles when she miscarried.
By the time Darrin arrived, the Righteous Brothers had recorded and released You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, a number one.
When you have the biggest record in the country everybody wants you, everybody needs you, and they need you now.
I went to the hospital to have a minor ailment checked, and the doctor diagnosed mental and physical exhaustion.
I was such a wreck Karen had to tell them my name – I couldn’t get it out. She took such good care of me. I’d get home from the studio at 2 or 3 in the morning and she would get up and make me tacos – what a great wife.
Just as Lovin’ Feelin’ was cresting, we were offered a shot playing the lounge at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas. We were the first rock act ever to play there, but we had to get the OK from Frank Sinatra, who was in the main room.
I’m sure Sinatra didn’t have a clue who the Righteous Brothers were – rock ’n’ roll was a million miles away from swing music and the Rat Pack – but his daughter Nancy was a friend, and I can only think she swung it for us.
Frank would bring huge parties of his friends to the lounge after his show. We always knew when he was coming because, despite the long lines waiting to get in, there was a long row of empty chairs from the stage to the back of the room with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at every other chair.
They were the heaviest hitters in Hollywood – Burt Lancaster, the Rat Pack, you name it.
One night I had to sing Georgia On My Mind with my musical hero Ray Charles, that song’s greatest interpreter, sitting four feet away.

My voice suffered in the Vegas heat, and Sinatra would give me advice on looking after it. Why he took a liking to us, I don’t know – maybe we reminded him of when he was coming up.
He invited us to the hotel’s steam room every day at five o’clock, where he’d hold court and ask for a status report.
‘How’s the reed doin’ kid – any better?’
One time he started to talk while he was putting on his hairpiece. It was the greatest rug in the world; it was short and looked so real, not like the helmets some guys wore. I told him how cool it looked and he said, ‘Thanks kid.’
Bobby and I became very aware of the Italian mob guys and we knew the Jewish mob too, because they took care of the casinos.
They were great to us; they loved us. We never feared them, although I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of them. After a while they started calling us ‘the Golden Boys’ because we did such good business.
Vegas in those days was so exciting and we were just 25; we ate it up. Almost every lounge had a topless revue with the most gorgeous women you can imagine.
I had sex with a girl in Frank Sinatra’s suite while he was on stage. Am I proud of that? No, I’m just proud I’m still alive. I’m not sure Frank would have appreciated it.
I had another girlfriend who worked in the hotel’s ladies room.
Bobby Hatfield and our bandleader Mike Patterson would run all over town looking for chicks after our last show of the night and all I had to do was call the women’s restroom. I’m not too proud of it now, but that was the life of a young performer in Vegas in the Sixties.
The mob guys, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and Frank Sinatra –  it was their world and we were just living in it.
Throughout our career, people thought Bobby and I disliked each other. That’s not true, but our relationship was very complicated.

We were like brothers – and brothers don’t always see eye to eye.
A few months after our run in Las Vegas, The Sands called to say they wanted to put us in the main room, which represented the pinnacle of the show business world at that time.
I drove to Bobby’s house with a dozen roses for his wife, my heart going 100 miles an hour, to tell him the news. His response was, ‘I don’t want to do it’.
That’s when it became crystal clear to me that Bobby and I were just in two different comfort zones.
It’s not a right or wrong thing. It’s like a young married couple who grow older and one gains 100 pounds or one starts drinking or gambling. The other one thinks: ‘I didn’t sign up for that.’
When people lined up across the casino to get into our lounge show at the Sands, Bobby loved it.
But the pressure of having to pack the main room and have our name in huge letters on the Vegas Strip as headliners, that didn’t work for Bobby. He wasn’t wired that way.
Not long after that, things started falling apart. Bobby’s people were telling him he was the cute one and the smart one and he shouldn’t listen to me. I’d had enough.
He and I were very different characters. He loved the parties and the Hollywood events like the Grammys, but I focused my energy on the music. We were just cut from different cloth.
My marriage fell apart at the same time.
On our final tour, I started an affair with the singer Darlene Love. I decided to get a divorce because I thought I was in love and it wasn’t fair to Karen.
Later, when Karen was with the man who became her second husband, I wanted to get back together but she didn’t.

Mind you, I dated some of the greatest women in the world. Mary Wilson and the Supremes would come to my solo Vegas shows and sit at the front.
After a while Mary and I became more than friends and had an on-off-thing. I had another of those with singer Connie Stevens. She was a spectacular woman who loved to help people, but I was one of those schmucks, scared to death of commitment.
When Karen was killed, she even offered to raise Darrin. I think he’s still annoyed I didn’t let her. I’m sure it still annoys her that I never would commit.
Once she proposed to me, not necessarily to marry me, but maybe so we could get married and then she could leave me to get it out of her system.
Another girl who really got my attention in the Seventies was Goldie Hawn. I had known her from the Sixties and we started hanging out. I think she wanted me to ask her out, but I was afraid. I was in awe of her; she was one of the cutest, funniest girls I’d ever met.
I married twice more in the Seventies, and neither lasted very long. Not long before Karen was murdered, my solo career was going fine, but my voice was failing, so I reformed the Righteous Brothers, thinking I would make a couple of million and retire.
I was shocked when we found Bobby. He was broke and living alone in a small apartment, which he was going to be evicted from in a week.
He had a chair, a black-and-white TV, and a bed… that’s it. He looked like a bum. I knocked on the door and said, ‘Let’s go and be Righteous Brothers again.’
And we did, for a while. We had a big new hit with Rock & Roll Heaven, and then went out on a tour of 20,000-seat venues. The promoter must have lost a fortune, because every night only about 2,000 people showed up. But we kept working steadily until 1976, when Karen was murdered.

After her death, my world was a blur. When I told Bobby I needed time off to raise Darrin, he was angry. But this was the time for me to keep a promise I’d made to Karen long ago and not always kept – that I would be there when it was important for the family.
In spite of our divorce, Karen was my best friend. Over 35 years later, I’m still looking for the man who killed her. I’ve got a private eye on the case.
And even now, it’s like a bad movie; it stops my heart just to talk about it.
'Elvis said, "Bill, it's going to be all right." But it wasn't...'
'Everything you've heard about Graceland during Elvis's glory days is true and then some,' said Bill       
The friendship I had with Elvis began to take shape in 1968, when I was recording in Memphis.
I’d record during the day and Elvis would send one of his guys over to bring me to Graceland at night. There was always something fun going on, but Elvis always had his guys, his bodyguards or ‘The Memphis Mafia’ as they were known, to cater to his every need and laugh loudly at his every joke.
About this time, toward the end of his movie career, Elvis was like the Howard Hughes of rock ’n’ roll.
Outside of those of us who got inside the walls of Graceland few people ever saw him in public.
But when I was performing solo at the Sands in Las Vegas in 1968, there was a sighting to remember.
I had a little comedic Elvis bit in my show, where I talked about our friendship, mimicked his awkward speech patterns, and said I never understood what he was saying… all in good-natured fun. One night, the house maître d’ handed me a note that simply read,

‘He’s here.’ I read the note out loud to the crowd and said, ‘Who’s here?’ Just then at the back of the room a guy stands up and starts singing All Shook Up. It was Elvis. The house lights came on and the crowd went bananas. It took me about 20 minutes just to get them back.
What happened to Elvis in the following years is one of my saddest memories. I knew he’d been using pills for a long time – in fact he offered me some once.
We were in his room one time and he opened a suitcase with this huge stash of all different kinds of pills.
I declined but he assured me, ‘Bill, I really know what I’m doing.’
I suppose all addicts feel that they have a handle on their struggle. The very last time I saw Elvis was when I took my son Darrin backstage to meet him.
He was sitting in the hotel stairwell talking with one of his singers. He was wrecked, hardly coherent.
I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I quickly introduced him to Darrin and we said our goodbyes.
As I walked away he turned to me and said, ‘Bill, it’s going to be all right, man.’
It wasn’t. But Elvis Presley was a good guy, and he was my friend.