Gerry Marsden, one of British rock and roll's earliest icons, has died at 78. Marsden was the leader of iconic Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers, who -- like fellow Liverpool band The Beatles -- were produced by George Martin and managed by Brian Epstein, and scored a string of chart-topping hits in the 1960s.

The Guardian reports:

In 1963 the Pacemakers topped the British charts with their first three singles, How Do You Do It?, I Like It and the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition You’ll Never Walk Alone (which became the theme tune of Liverpool FC). In this respect the Pacemakers had outstripped the Beatles, who did not manage to reach No 1 until their third single, From Me to You. It was only in 1984 that the Pacemakers’ feat was repeated, coincidentally by another Liverpool group, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Aptly, the B side of Frankie’s first big hit, Relax, was a version of Marsden’s composition Ferry Cross the Mersey, a Pacemakers hit from 1965.

After their dazzling early salvo of hits, Gerry and the Pacemakers could not match the extraordinary trajectory of the Beatles, but, as Epstein predicted: “Gerry will be with us for a great many years because you cannot exhaust natural ability.” The group enjoyed further successes with Marsden’s song I’m the One, which reached No 2 in 1964, the poignant ballad Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying (written by Marsden and credited to the whole band, and which reached No 6 in 1964) and Ferry Cross the Mersey, which made No 8 in early 1965.

Marsden's friend, British broadcaster Pete Price, wrote, "It’s with a very heavy heart after speaking to the family that I have to tell you the Legendary Gerry Marsden MBE after a short illness which was an infection in his heart has sadly passed away. Sending all the love in the world to Pauline and his family. You’ll Never Walk Alone."

Paul McCartney also wrote a tribute.

Rest in peace, Gerry.

Watch some classic videos of Gerry and the Pacemakers below...