Karel Gott to get funeral with state honours as singer’s death is mourned at home and abroad

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Hájek

The legendary Czech singer and pop icon Karel Gott passed away on Tuesday at his home in Prague surrounded by his family. As tributes to the singer pour in from at home and abroad, Czech leaders are planning a funeral with state honours and a national day of mourning.

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Hájek
The nation is mourning its king of pop. Hours after Karel Gott's death was announced, President Miloš Zeman’s spokesman tweeted that flags were being flown at half-mast at Prague Castle and the president’s Lány residence until the singer’s funeral.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš initially wanted Mr. Gott to have a state funeral if his family agreed to give its consent. The maestro's remains were to lie in the Cathedral of St. Vitus where people could pay him their last respects. However, the prime minister amended this statement on Thursday.

"I hope to announce to the public the date of Karel Gott’s funeral on [Thursday] afternoon and the location where people can pay their respects, as well as where the official farewell will take place. It will not be a state funeral, but one with state honours…I discussed this matter with his family yesterday and today a special team will settle the details.”

The death of Mr. Gott, is not just making headlines in Czechia, but in neighbouring states and beyond.

The Slovak newspaper Denník N refers to Mr. Gott as „the most famous pop star to emerge from Czechoslovakia”, while Russia’s TASS news agency describes him as “a first rank pop star of international calibre”.

Photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
Karel Gott was especially famous in Germany, where he first broke through during the 1960s after he lent his voice to the title song of the popular cartoon TV show Maya the Bee.

His death has been reported across major television channels, newspapers and magazines in the country. Die Welt states that many of his songs had „unforgettable melodies“, while the leading German tabloid Das Bild notes that Gott sold more than 50 million album’s in the course of his career.

It is not just the highpoints of his life, but also the lows that some German and Czech papers point out in their obituaries.

For example, Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle noted that critics in the Czech Republic accuse him of co-signing the Anti-Charter initiated by the Communist Party, which was aimed at discrediting the signatories of the pro-democratic Charter 77.

However, it also states that the "the Golden Voice from Prague" denied any affiliation with the communist regime and one of the leading dissent musicians of 1980s Czechoslovakia Michael Kocáb told Czech Television that Karel Gott actually defended dissident musicians to the dissatisfaction of the Communist secret police.

Photo: ČTK/Miroslav Chaloupka
Whatever the circumstances, historian Petr Blažek, who met with Mr. Gott just a few weeks before his death, described him on Facebook as “a man who chose the wrong path at one of life’s crossroads”.

Just as the time Karel Gott lived in left a mark on him, so did he, through his music, leave an imprint the lives of many people.

The former Slovak President Andrej Kiska wrote:

“When I was a child, there was Karel Gott. When I was a teenager, we talked about his music. When I was an adult, I would play his songs on the guitar. He was here when I was president. I cannot imagine that he will no longer be here.”

That he was a bright light in the world of Czech pop music for six decades is also evident from the fact that he won the Golden (later Czech) Nightingale, the country’s annual award for the best singer, 42 times.

The opening line of his acceptance speech which would traditionally begin with “this time I really did not expect it“, became a widely-used quote in the Czech Republic, which Mr. Gott would end up laughing at himself.

There are claims that the “Divine Kája” had hundreds of lovers during his life. He certainly did choose to settle down late in his life, marrying the 32-year-old Ivana Macháčková at the age of 68 in 2008. He was the father of four daughters, two with his wife Ivana and two from previous relationships.

Karel Gott at Czech Radio, photo: Khalil Baalbaki / Czech Radio
The last four years of his life were marked by serious illness. In 2015, he was diagnosed with acute lymph node cancer. While he did manage to beat the disease and return to concerting for a few years, in mid-September this year he announced that he was suffering from acute leukaemia. This battle would be his last.

His death may have been sudden, but Karel Gott’s career was extremely colourful and successful. It was perhaps best summarised by the maestro himself in his last interview with Czech Radio earlier this year.

“When I look back now, I feel that I have lived many lives. That is what’s beautiful about it all.“