Gene Pitney, the clean-cut crooner who became a teenage idol in the early 1960's with hits like ''Town Without Pity,'' ''(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance'' and ''Only Love Can Break a Heart'' -- songs that showcased his keening tenor -- was found dead yesterday in a hotel in Cardiff, Wales, while on a tour of Britain. He was 65.
He appeared to have died of natural causes, the police told The Associated Press. Mr. Pitney had performed in Cardiff the night before.
With a style less baroque than Roy Orbison and more restrained than the Righteous Brothers, Mr. Pitney emerged at the peak of the Brill Building era, when teenage pathos reigned in lyrics and a hit song could be both silly and grandiose. He recorded with Phil Spector and performed songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and others, scoring 16 titles in the Top 20 between 1961 and 1968.
Preppy and wholesome-looking, Mr. Pitney sang with perfect diction, making every cry-y-y perfectly clear. He was influenced by black R & B groups of the 1950's and specialized in ballads that boiled over in romantic melodrama.
''Every Breath I Take,'' from 1961, combines doo-wop backing vocals with a gathering tempest of sentimentality, culminating in Mr. Pitney's ecstatic falsetto in the final chorus. Around him, strings swirl and drums thump in one of the earliest examples of Mr. Spector's muscular ''wall of sound'' recording technique.
In ''I'm Gonna Be Strong,'' a Pitney archetype written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and released in 1964, Mr. Pitney begins in hushed tones by saying that he will remain calm and steady as his lover leaves him. But by the end, barely two minutes later, he has broken his promise and exploded into a soaring, tearful confession as he exclaims: ''You'll never know, darling, after you kiss me goodbye/How I'll break down and cry.''
Born in Hartford, Mr. Pitney had his first success as a songwriter, writing for Steve Lawrence, Roy Orbison and Bobby Vee. Ricky Nelson recorded three of his songs, including the hit ''Hello Mary Lou.'' Another Pitney song, ''He's a Rebel,'' a girl-group classic recorded by Mr. Spector and credited to the Crystals (though the lead vocal was sung by Darlene Love), became a No. 1 hit in 1962.
His performing career began in earnest in January 1961, when the Musicor label released a demo recording of his song ''(I Wanna) Love My Life Away,'' on which he sang all the vocals and played all the instrumental parts. Later that year he sang the title song to the film ''Town Without Pity''; the song was nominated for an Academy Award.
One of his signature numbers, ''(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,'' written by Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David, was recorded for the John Ford film of the same title, but it was not used in the film. Mr. Pitney later said in an interview that he was in the studio about to record the song when '' Bacharach informed us that the film just came out.'' Regardless, the song went to No. 4. In 1963, while on tour in Britain, Mr. Pitney met the young Rolling Stones and recorded their song ''That Girl Belongs to Yesterday.'' When released early the next year, it became the first Jagger-Richards composition to reach the charts in the United States, at No. 49.
Mr. Pitney remained a regular presence on the American charts through the mid-60's, with songs like ''24 Hours From Tulsa,'' ''True Love Never Runs Smooth'' and ''Half Heaven -- Half Heartache,'' and he recorded with the country star George Jones. But by the end of the decade his popularity had faded in the United States. He found success in Britain and Europe early on, and he continued to tour there throughout his career, recording in Italian and Spanish for overseas fans. In the late 80's he scored a No. 1 hit in Britain with ''Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart,'' a duet with Marc Almond. Throughout his life, though, he made his home in Connecticut. His survivors include his wife, Lynne, and three sons.
A crowning moment for him came in 2002, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ms. Love introduced him. ''Gene really had a way with the females,'' she told the audience, ''but he had far more than just solid good looks.''
Correction: April 15, 2006, Saturday An obituary of the pop singer Gene Pitney on April 6 misstated his age. He was 66, not 65.
Photo: Gene Pitney, who found success as a singer in the early 1960's, in 1966. (Photo by M. McKeown/Express, via Getty Images)