Vancouver big band leader Dal Richards has died. He would have turned 98 on Jan. 5, 2016.

Dallas Murray Richards, born in Vancouver in 1918, has long been known as Vancouver's "King of Swing".

The musician was honoured with the Order of Canada, the Order of B.C. and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal and was an inductee of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Over the years, he hosted national radio and television shows, including on CBC, helped launch the careers of talented young musicians and played countless concerts.

79 consecutive New Year's Eve gigs

"I think it was always just, keep moving. Keep moving they can't get you. You know?" said Richards' wife Muriel.

"And enjoy life. Do what you love. Love what you do. It makes life way more fun."

After 79 consecutive New Year's Eve gigs, and nearly as many shows at the Pacific National Exhibition, it's hard to imagine anyone has kept the music going for longer.

His reign began in 1940, at the brand new Panorama Roof of the Vancouver Hotel. Generations of people have rung in their new year with Dal Richards, who played every New Year's Eve from 1936 to 2014.

Ever the gentleman, he never lost his enthusiasm for the big night, as Richards told CBC Radio just before he played his 76th New Year's Eve.

A few more ideas for New Year's Eve3:08

From slingshot to swing band

Richards first turned to music as a boy. He was hit by a slingshot in the left eye and his doctor recommended trying out an instrument to lift him out of depression.

His natural affinity for the clarinet eventually helped him forget about his injury.

By the time he entered high school at Kerrisdale's Magee Secondary, he yearned to be in a band like the ones he heard on the radio, so he rounded up a band which became his first orchestra.

When he began his life as a professional musician, Richards joined the band at the Palomar Ballroom, the city's original Hotel Vancouver at Georgia and Burrard Street, and soon took over as the bandleader.

His passion for music and the audience continued well into his nineties.

In an interview with CBC Music on his 95th birthday, Richards shared his secret.

"Well, if you find something you like doing in life, pursue it with your heart. That is what I've done with music. I found that it was my love, so it enveloped my life totally."

'He was a great man'

Jimmy Pattison says he looked up Richards as a child when he played in the Kitslano Boys Band just as the iconic bandleader did before him. Many years later the two friends even played together.

"I was only on stage because he invited me on. Not because of my talent or anything," said Pattison. "He was always very kind to me and from time to time, especially during the Expo years, he'd ask me to come and play with him.

"He was an icon around here. I mean, Dal Richards was the perfect ambassador for Vancouver that you could ever get."

"Just an incredible man. He really was," added Red Robinson, another long-time friend. "And I think that keeps you going. He always had a curve to throw. He was subtle. Dry humour. And, of course, I like that kind of humour. He was a tremendous man. Never mind musician. He was a great man."

With files from Margaret Gallagher