Jimmy Zámbó – The Man Who Would Be King

Jimmy Zambo
Jimmy Zambo

A man of worryingly unpleasant appearance, yet a local best-selling controversial artist, a famous adulterer and abuser, is no more.

Ascendent of an underprivileged worker family living in the shadow of the decaying slums of a post-communist industrial paradise and the owner of an angelic voice, he was one of the most successful Hungarian singers in the last twenty years. A local boozer prone to scandals, yet, a great charity worker; the much adored and worshiped local deity of the Csepel Island.

{loadposition content_adsensecontent}

His karma might be compared to those of Elvis Presley and Chuck Norris. With Presley he shared the title of the King. Unlike the Presley story, no one doubts that Jimmy died on that early morning of January 2nd, 2001 (in an incident that might be described as a bizarre suicide), but if you ask how did he die, you will realize that almost everyone in Budapest who cares about Jimmy the King has a version of his or her own. Just like Presley’s, Jimmy’s mysterious death caused an unseen before media hype which continues even today, ten years after his death.

What connects Jimmy with Chuck are numerous anecdotes about his life. Once he allegedly slept over in a hotel in Miskolctapolca where he impressed the owner of the hotel so much that she later changed the name of the hotel into Zambó Jimmy Hotel. I wonder if Chuck could produce such a quantity of divine enlightment? If Chuck is the Texas Ranger, then Jimmy is the Weird Spirit of Csepel Island.

Zambó Imre was born in Budapest on January 20th 1958, and spent most his life on Csepel Island. He started singing as a child with his siblings György, Tihamér, Árpád and Marietta, mostly in local bars and on radio, and his talent got noticed at a really early stage of his life. He spent some time in the USA, made his first record there, and shortly after came back to Hungary bearing his English nick name Jimmy, which he proudly bore until his death.


After returning to the homeland he started publishing albums, and literally every of them was a large success. Shortly after his first Hungarian album Csak egy vallomás (Just One Confession) in 1991, he was pronounced the King due to his four and a half octave singing. Since then he’s been known as the King of Hungarian pop music.

We could say this or that about his life and earthly actions, but one thing is for sure, Jimmy Zambó was one of the most popular singers in the modern Hungarian discography (12 albums before death and 11 after death, winner of numerous music awards). Most of his songs are definitely of, to say it nicely, a questionable artistic value, but his voice was tremendous, and the acoustic value of his songs surpassed most of that reached by his coevals.

Even during his life, Jimmy was treated like a real King at Csepel Island. He was the voice of hope of a city slum left alone in its gloomy post-communist destiny. Jimmy and Csepel become one, representing each other on this and the next world. Jimmy Zambó was much more than just a singing wonder, he became a social phenomena.


There are more versions of the story of Jimmy’s death then explanations about the nature of the Loch Ness monster. His death is definitely the most controversial and the most discussed Hungarian death of the 21st century. Some claim that he killed him self accidentally, some deliberately, some believe that he was killed by his wife, mafia or even the secret service (because Jimmy was probably one of the masterminds behind the New World Order).

According to some stories of the native Csepel people, the King was well known for his love for guns, and he rarely ever left the house without a piece on him. Although some say that he blew his head off clean in the middle of the street, a more trustworthy story, confirmed also by the Police, is that the shooting took place inside the family house early in the morning of January 2nd, 2001.

Some say that, totally wasted after New Year’s Eve and the after parties, Jimmy heard a rooster’s crow, which made him go bananas. He started pointing his gun nervously all around his living room, the gun eventually finished on his forehead. Jimmy obviously realized that the rooster exists only in his head, but what he didn’t realize was that he had one more bullet in the gun barrel.

According to his wife’s version, Jimmy was in the high spirits after partying for a couple of days, and just decided to play with his pistol. He shot twice in the air, in spite of his wife’s protests, and then emptied the gun magazine. Then he pointed the gun to his wife to assure her that there were no more bullets in. When that did not stop his wife from complaining, he pointed the gun onto his forehead and shot once more. His wife was right, he shouldn’t have played with the gun that day.

Ten years after King’s death, a very close friend of the Zambó family, a certain Mrs. Éva Hulé (besides the King and his wife, the third person present at the Zambó house in the time of the shooting) changed her original testimony about Jimmy’s death, and claimed that the King was actually shot dead by his own wife Edit who had enough of years of abuse and humiliation.

One of the Jimmy’s songs is titled A Good Girl Forgives Everything (Egy jó asszony mindent megbocsát). If Mrs. Hulé is right, then Jimmy was wrong, or Edit wasn’t a good girl after all.

Hungarian super-trash magazines like Story, Hot and Best all exploited that sensational news just a few weeks ago. Sparked by trash tabloids, which simply won’t allow Jimmy to be dead, by the popular rumours or by just one confession of Mrs. Hulé, the Hungarian police have opened the case again, and will once more investigate into the death of the King.

Even today there are always fresh flowers and wreaths in front of the King’s house and his grave at the Csepel Graveyard, which has become sort of a shrine for the local people. They still keep a chair that is always waiting empty for him in his favorite bar on Csepel.

Every year the locals organize The Night of Remembering Jimmy Zambó at the Workers’ Home in the heart of Csepel where young talents gather to sing Jimmy’s songs. The best of them is presented with the Jimmy Zambó Prize.

Naturally, Csepel is proud of its Jimmy Zambó Fun Club. Even today it would be a big mistake to say anything bad or against the work of the King because the green suburban train just might not be fast enough to save your life. Besides trashy magazines and popular TV shows, Jimmy’s family invests a lot of effort to profit from the King’s death.

His family rarely misses the opportunity to expose themselves in the media, always telling the story of the half-god Jimmy who fell victim of a corrupted and cruel world. It seems that Jimmy’s brother Árpád, better known as Árpy, is the bravest in that grotesque selfpromotion. On Jimmy Zambó’s official web page you can find Árpy’s CV and his favourite recipes.


What follows is the cherry on the cream of the story about Jimmy Zambó the King, a genuine urban legend of Budapest. There is really no way to check this story, but the legend is still vivid in the minds of people, and is often heard as a rumour or whisper brought by the southern wind from the Csepel Island.

After King’s tragic death, a committee of Csepel locals supposedly formed a delegation that travelled to the Vatican. Their aim was to meet the Pope and talk him into canonizing Jimmy. We know today that Saint Jimmy Zambó does not exist, so the Pope obviously did not fall for Jimmy’s angelic voice and righteous deeds.

I can’t help imagining the Csepel delegation leaving Saint Peter’s Square, their faces all bitter and distorted in grief, and, in the background, You’ll Never Make a Saint of Me by the Rolling Stones plays on.

They returned to Csepel, where beaten and cheated, good asszonys probably do forgive the sins of their men, where most of the people still honour traditional values, good old personality cult and solid machoist music.

As it proved so many times in the case of Jimmy Zambó, four and the half octaves just weren’t enough.