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Belgian rock icon Arno dies aged 72

Veteran Belgian singer Arno, a rock icon known for his husky voice and unruly hair, died on Saturday from cancer at the age of 72, his agent announced.

Arno, born Arnold Hintjens, was a national icon in Belgium, his gravelly voice compared to that of US singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

Arno had announced in February 2020 that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer.

“We’ll all miss him, but he’ll always be here thanks to the music that kept him going until the end,” his Belgian agent Filip De Groote said in a statement.

Born in the Flemish coastal town of Ostend on 21 May 1949, Arno began with the group TC Matic in the 1980s.

But it was as a solo artist that he reached a wider public, thanks to songs like “Les yeux de ma mere (My Mother’s Eyes)”.

“He is an immense singer and poet, the Belgian national monument. And a monument of Europe,” said Boris Vedel, director of the Printemps de Bourges music festival.

In February, dressed in his usual black stage costume, Arno was received at the Royal Palace in Brussels by King Philippe, who called him an “icon of the Belgian scene”.

“Rest in peace, Arno. It was wonderful, tweeted Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of the singer who once said he “had no borders in his head”.

The father of several boys but discreet about his private life, Arno has often spoken about his mother, who died prematurely.

At a recent concert he sad he would soon be joining her “up there”.

French chanteuse Mireille Mathieu, who was recording her part in a studio collaboration with Arno in the south of France on Saturday, said she had learned “the terrible news” at the end of the session

“His departure touches me deeply,” she told AFP.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Arno once told France Inter. “I’ve travelled all over the world thanks to music, I’ve enjoyed life. I take this happiness with me. Thank you life!”