Zavaroni spent the first 10 years of her life in the small town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute with musical parents, who owned a fish and chip shop. Father Victor Zavaroni played the guitar, mother Hilda sang, and Lena herself sang from the age of two. Her grandfather immigrated from Italy. Lena in the town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute where she lived with her father Victor, mother Hilda and little sister Carla.
She was discovered in the summer of 1973 by record producer Tommy Scott, who was on holiday in Rothesay and heard her singing with her father and uncle in a band. Scott contacted impresario Phil Solomon, which led to his partner Dorothy Solomon’s becoming Lena’s manager.In 1974 Lena appeared on “Opportunity Knocks” hosted by Hughie Green and won the show for a record-breaking five weeks running. She followed this with the album “Ma! (He’s Making Eyes At Me)”, a collection of classic and then-recent pop standards which reached #8 in the UK album chart. At 10 years, 146 days old, Lena is still the youngest person to have an album in the Top 10 and the youngest British singer to earn a silver disc, and the youngest person to appear on TV’s “Top of the Pops.” Her single of “(You’ve Got) Personality” from the same LP didn’t chart in the US, but became her last UK chart hit, peaking at #33.
Lena also sang at a Hollywood charity show with Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball in 1974, at which Ball commented, “You’re special. Very special and very, very good,” although some sources attribute the words to Sinatra. Following this, Lena guest-starred on “The Carol Burnett Show”. She also appeared on “The Morecambe and Wise Show”, the 1976 “Royal Variety Show” and performed at the White House for US President Gerald Ford. Signed to the soul-oriented Stax Records label in the United States, Lena was not widely popular despite the praise and television appearances; her “Ma” album was not listed in the popularity charts, and its title single only reached #91 position on the Billboard Hot 100 during a four-week chart run in the summer of 1974.
While attending London’s Italia Conti Academy stage school, Lena met and became long-term friends with child star Bonnie Langford. The two starred in the ITV special “Lena and Bonnie.” On Wednesday, September 6, 1978, the BBC broadcast “Lena Zavaroni on Broadway.” In 1979 Lena had her own TV series on the BBC called Lena Zavaroni and Music, and from 1980 to 1982 she had a TV series called “Lena.”From the age of 13, Lena suffered from anorexia nervosa.
While at stage school, her weight dropped to 4 stone (25 kg or 55 lbs). Lena blamed this on the pressure placed upon her to fit into costumes while at the same time she was “developing as a woman.”She continued to suffer from anorexia throughout the 1980s, and in 1989 she married computer consultant Peter Wiltshire. The couple settled in North London but separated 18 months later. Also in 1989, Lena’s mother, Hilda, died of a tranquilizer overdose and a fire destroyed all of her showbiz mementos.After the breakup of her marriage, Lena moved to Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to be nearer to her father and his second wife. By this time, she was living on state benefits and in 1999 was accused of stealing a 50 pence packet of jelly, although the charges were later dropped.Lena underwent a number of drug treatments and received electro-convulsive therapy in an attempt to beat her depression.
She begged doctors to operate on her to relieve her depression. Although the operation would not cure her anorexia, she was desperate for it to proceed and threatened suicide if it did not (she also took a drug overdose).In September 1999 Lena was admitted to University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff for the psychosurgical operation. It was described as “pioneering” and “keyhole surgery to partially interrupt the nerve pathways that control emotions”. After the operation, she appeared to be in a satisfactory condition and after a week she was “making telephone calls, cheerful and engaging in conversation,” even asking her doctor if he thought there was any chance that she would get back on stage. However, three weeks after the operation, she developed a chest infection and died from pneumonia on October 1st.
She weighed less than five stone (32 kg or 71 lbs.).Although some reports said that the surgery was a leucotomy (also known as a lobotomy), the hospital said that it was not, and the treatment was intended for depression rather than anorexia as was rumored at the time. Lena was buried at Hoddesdon Cemetery.