Remembering Oliver Dragojević on His 74th Birthday

By 7 December 2021
Remembering Oliver Dragojević on His 74th Birthday
Robert Anic/PIXSELL

December 7, 2021 - Remembering Oliver Dragojević on December 7, what would have been his 74th birthday. 

It has been three and a half years since Oliver Dragojević has been gone. For his birthday on December 7, we remember the music legend who touched the region with his timeless songs, charm, and simplicity, writes Gloria.

Since he lost the battle with cancer in July 2018, he has remained immortal to the people of Split. Oliver could never imagine leaving his beloved Split, although he was offered countless times to move to Zagreb and even some larger European capitals. 

Oliver loved Split and especially appreciated that the life of an "ordinary" man could live there. He went out for coffee with his family every day, visited the fish market, and often sat on a bench on the Riva, enjoying the sea view and boats.

Neighbors on the street, where he had lived for the past twenty-something years, said he would greet any passerby, whether he knew him or was in a hurry. "I would never move out of Split because I enjoy it. As soon as you live in Split, and if you live, you can't be an uncommunicative or conceited star," Oliver said.

We cannot forget how much he loved Vela Luka on Korčula, which was his permanent home until he was two years old, and where his mother Kata, a cleaner, and father Marko, a worker in the Port Authority, were from. Oliver was their fifth and youngest child.

His three sisters died before he was born, and his brother Aljoša, who also died from cancer in 2011, was three years older than him.

Vela Luka was his oasis of peace in which, as an adult, Oliver spent every summer with his family. At his request, he was buried in the local cemetery of Sv. Roka. His grave is regularly visited by his fans from all over Croatia and beyond.

Talking about their plans for old age, Vesna Dragojević admitted that the two of them intended to spend the rest of their lives in Vela Luka, which is why they bought another house there more than ten years ago. Since his death, her sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren have kept her company.

"With me are sons Dino and Damir, their wives Nevena and Vanda, Dino's children Duje, twins Lucija and Toni and Damir's little ones Vinko and Margita. And Davor, his wife Karmen, and their sons Marko and Luka who are staying with Karmen's parents visit every day," Vesna revealed to Gloria this summer, on the third anniversary of Oliver's death, when many musicians perform in Vela Luka to honor the music legend. 

Oliver was a passionate lover of the sea and always pointed out that he needed no luxury but a boat and fishing rods to catch big fish. While his former boat was moored in the ACI marina in Split, he often spent part of the day in the cabin watching his favorite TV series "Malo Misto." His singing partner and great friend Zlatan Stipišić Gibonni called him 'captain' in his farewell speech.

"I would like to tell my Captain that everything is as it should be. And that all this sea is just for him," Gibonni said sadly at the commemoration for Oliver at HNK Split in August 2018.

People close to Oliver will always say first that he was a family man above all else. He spent a full 44 years married to Vesna, and in 2009 they secretly renewed their marriage vows in the church in Vela Luka.

When they fell in love in her hometown of Dubrovnik, Oliver performed with the band Batali and was unknown to the general public. He was 25 at the time, and Vesna was six years younger. They had a modest wedding in Oliver's parent's apartment in Gripe and shared the first years of their marriage with his brother Aljoša and his family.

In an interview with Gloria after Oliver's death, Vesna said that the secret of their marriage was that they had the same views. They did not drive expensive cars and clothes but secured a future for their sons Dino and twins Davor and Damir. Oliver also helped Vesna get through the most challenging periods - a stillbirth in the first year of marriage.

"I remember best our last sixteen years when he decided to pull the brakes and perform less and be with us more. I was always happy and fulfilled with Oliver. I don't know any man who was so easy to love. He didn't have to do anything special to feel comfortable next to him," Vesna said in 2019 when she emphasized that Oliver was the most tender father in the world. He never raised his voice or said a harsh word.

Everyone knew about Oliver's devotion to his family in Split because he always walked around the city in the company of his son or Vesna.

"My sons have always come first, and the best thing I could do for them is to let them choose their path. I don't mind that they chose tourism instead of music. But that's why I gave them the sea and fishing," joked Oliver, who enjoyed his role as a grandfather in his later years.

His oldest grandson Duje was born in 2007 and is now in the eighth grade, and the youngest Luka is a year and a half old. Oliver did not welcome his birth, as well as three-year-old Marko, but there is no doubt that he would adore them, as well as his other five older grandchildren.

Since Oliver's departure, many of his colleagues have claimed there is no other musician like him - a legend during his lifetime. His career lasted for half a century; he won as many as 31 Porin and his favorite Split Festival many times. His incredible musical journey began in 1975 when he performed an anthological song by the late Zdenko Runjić, "Galeb i ja”.


Oliver graduated from music high school, played the harmonica, piano, guitar, and clarinet, and is our only singer who has performed in the world's most famous concert halls: New York's Carnegie Hall, London's Royal Albert Hall, Paris' Olympia, Vienna's Konzerthaus and opera in Sydney.

In addition, the audience and critics adored his vocals with which he painted all his songs: from the older "Magdalena", "Ključ života," and "Ostavljam te samu" to "Cesarica." However, this 1993 song, written for him by Gibonni, was a new turning point in his career - as younger generations began to listen to him.

"To last in music, you need to have a good song, believe in what you're doing, and be persistent as a horse. I didn't plan anything in my career. My vocal cords just spent a lot of singing, sleepless nights, and cigarettes," Oliver once said.

At the end of 2017, he was to hold two celebratory concerts at the Spaladium Arena to celebrate 50 years in music and his 70th birthday. The last time he appeared in front of the audience was at a show for the fight against cancer at the Croatian National Theater in Split in October 2017. Vesna saw symbolism in that because he held over 400 humanitarian concerts during his lifetime.

Oliver's 357 days battling lung cancer are still reluctantly remembered by his loved ones. The world collapsed for their family when they found out about Oliver's diagnosis in August 2017. There was no doubt that they faced a much more significant challenge than when Oliver suffered a mild stroke in 2003.

"I am a nurse by profession, and in ten years of work, I have seen many patients with this diagnosis who have not been cured. Oliver's disease was a shock to all of us because he was in great shape that summer. He always played futsal; he smoked less and got rid of alcohol long before that," Vesna admitted two and a half years ago. His desire to live, sing and honor the sea did not leave him even when in the summer of 2018 - after several hospitalizations and hard struggles - he ended up in the hospital for the last time, where he eventually died on July 29 at 4 am.


Oliver's farewell is remembered as unparalleled. Hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the Riva said goodbye to the adored musician, and almost all of his colleagues were among them.

His coffin was transported to Vela Luka by a special catamaran, which was accompanied by sirens and bells from the St. Duje Cathedral and by small boats and ships of the Ministry of the Interior and the Croatian Navy. Torches colored the sky above Split, and Torcida organized the spectacle as Oliver was a passionate supporter of Hajduk.

Split will sing his songs in his honor, together with Oliver's nephew Petar Dragojević, at Zvončac tonight. 

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.