Country music star John Hore Grenell has died

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John Hore Grenell at his home in White Cliffs, Canterbury in 2014.

KIRK HARGREAVES / Stuff

John Hore Grenell at his home in White Cliffs, Canterbury in 2014.

New Zealand country music legend John Hore Grenell has died aged 78.

Former wife and lifelong friend Deirdre Lusby said Grenell died of a heart attack on Wednesday night.

“The family is planning a private farewell for John and a public departure with a musical celebration of his life will take place at a later date,” she said.

Grenell recorded his first record in 1963 and was best known for his 1990 version of Welcome to our World, which featured in a Toyota advertising campaign.

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He also represented New Zealand at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee in 1966 and 1974.

Band member, producer and friend Dave Maybee said Grenell was a shy country boy with an incredible voice.

“He was a pretty shy star,” he said.

Grenell loved horses and raised Appaloans.

KIRK HARGREAVES / Stuff

Grenell loved horses and raised Appaloans.

“He’s blessed with a one-in-a-million voice. That voice was really, really special. He rose to fame at an early age and was rocketed into national and international fame at a young age.

“Sometimes he struggled with it. He was a simple farm boy from Ranfurly, really.

Grenell ran a farm in Whitecliffs, Canterbury and bred horses.

“He ended up with a small farm where he raised Appaloosa horses. He has built a solid reputation with horses. He was an amazing rider himself,” Maybee said.

“That side of him was very close to nature.

“A lot of his songs were about that and how we need to care for and preserve our world.”

Maybee recalled Grenell recording vocals for a 14-song album in a single day.

“Working with John in a studio was quite extraordinary. He was one of the few singers who could really sing in tune,” he said.

“There was no break. He just sang. And he would get it in one or maybe two takes.

Grenell had one vote in a million, said his friend Dave Maybee.

KIRK HARGREAVES / Stuff

Grenell had one vote in a million, said his friend Dave Maybee.

Grenell was born in 1944 in Ranfurly, central Otago, according to biographies from the New Zealand Music Commission and Christchurch City Libraries.

He grew up on the family farm in Kyeburn and attended Otago Boys High School in Dunedin. He entered a series of talent contests in the early 1960s and signed with Joe Brown Records in 1964 under the name John Hore.

Grenell toured the world in the 1960s and released a string of hit albums and singles. By age 19, he had sold 100,000 records.

In the 1970s and 1980s he took a break from the music industry to help set up a hiking tourism business in Queenstown. He returned to the music industry in the late 1980s as John Grenell and released more hit records.

He suffered a stroke in 2009 which initially left him unable to remember the words to his songs. But he said in 2014 that old songs were slowly coming back to him.

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