Howard Keel, the 85-year-old musical star - probably best known for a string of MGM musicals - has died. Keel lost his battle with colon cancer on Sunday (7 November 2004) and passed away at his home in Palm Desert.

Born Harold Clifford Leek in Gillespie, Illinois 1917 to an abusive coal miner father and a staunch Methodist mother Keel was an unlikely performer. But after taking singing lessons to train his mellow baritone voice he was auditioned by Oscar Hammerstein II, and got the part of Curly in a touring production of Oklahoma!. He went on to tour with the musical which brought him to London for a six month stint.

After World War II Keel signed a contract with MGM which saw him star in a succession of hit musicals including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun, Rose Marie, Calamity Jane and Kismet.

After the MGM musical ‘factory’ was disbanded Keel went on the road with shows like Man of La Mancha and South Pacific. But it was in the 1980s that his career branched into television with a long-term part in the soap opera Dallas.

Keel was married three times to actress Rosemary Cooper, then dancer Helen Anderson, with whom he had three children, Kaija, Kristine and Gunnar. He leaves them behind along with his third wife Judy Magamoll, and youngest daughter Leslie.

- By Hannah Kennedy