Dekker, whose 1969 hit Israelites was the first reggae song to
top the UK charts, collapsed at his Surrey home.
Dekker's last gig was in Leeds on 11 May (Photo:
Manager Delroy Williams said the Jamaica-born performer had
seemed fine when they met a day earlier, adding: "I don't think I
will ever get over this."
Reggae DJ Daddy Ernie, of Choice FM in London, said: "Any history
book that you pick up on reggae, Desmond Dekker's name will have to
be in there."
He added: "People like Desmond Dekker only come along once in a
lifetime. This is one of the pioneers that has passed away - his
place is definitely cemented in reggae history."
Mark Lamarr, presenter of BBC Radio 2's Reggae Show, said: "He
probably was the first reggae superstar to have hits outside Jamaica
in the US and UK.
"I saw him live dozens of times and he couldn't do a bad show -
he was always magnificent."
Mr Williams said Dekker had led the way for reggae stars such as
"Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not," he said.
"When he released Israelites nobody had heard of Bob Marley - he
paved the way for all of them."
The star was divorced with a son and daughter.
He had been due to perform at the Respect Festival in Prague on 2
June, and numerous dates across Europe during the summer.
His last concert was at Leeds Metropolitan University on 11 May.
"He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for
this summer and he was looking forward to it - and then that was
it," Mr Williams said.
"He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his
best friend. I don't think anyone knew how close we were - we go
back so far."
He added: "I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye properly."
Dekker was born on 16 July 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, and began
his working life as a welder before turning to singing full-time.
His band Desmond Dekker and the Aces topped the UK
charts with Israelites, which also made the US top 10.
Dekker's hits included Israelites, It Mek and 007
He moved to the UK in the '70s, later recording the hit You Can
Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.
The musician's popularity waned in the late '70s and '80s, and
Dekker was declared bankrupt in 1984.
But a new version of Israelites was released in 1990 and used in
television commercials, boosting the star's popularity.