Andy Williams, Crooner of ‘Moon River,’ Dies at 84
By ANITA GATES
Andy Williams, the affable, boyishly handsome crooner who defined both easy listening and wholesome, easygoing charm for many American pop music fans in the 1960s, most notably with his signature song, “Moon River,” died on Tuesday night at his home in Branson, Mo. He was 84 and also had a home in La Quinta, Calif.
The cause was cancer, his publicist, Paul Shefrin, said. Mr. Williams, who had continued to perform until last year, announced in November that he had bladder cancer.
“Moon River” was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and Audrey Hepburn introduced it in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but it was Mr. Williams who made the song indisputably his own when he sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony and titled a subsequent album after it. When he built a theater in Branson, he named it the Andy Williams Moon River Theater.
“Moon River” became the theme song for his musical-variety television series “The Andy Williams Show,” which, along with his family-oriented Christmas TV specials, made him a household name.
“The Andy Williams Show” ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971 and won three Emmy Awards for outstanding variety series. But its run also coincided with the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, and with a lineup of well-scrubbed acts like the Osmond Brothers (whom Mr. Williams introduced to national television) and established performers like Judy Garland and Bobby Darin, the show, at least to many members of a younger, more rebellious generation, was hopelessly square — the sort of entertainment their parents would watch.
Despite that image, “The Andy Williams Show” was not oblivious to the cultural moment. Its guests also included rising rock acts like Elton John and the Mamas and the Papas, and its offbeat comedy skits, featuring characters like the relentless Cookie Bear and the Walking Suitcase, predated similar absurdism on David Letterman’s and Conan O’Brien’s talk shows by decades.
Mr. Williams’s Christmas specials, on the other hand, were entirely anodyne and decidedly homey, featuring carols and crew-neck sweaters, sleigh bells and fake snow, and a stage filled with family members, including his wife, the telegenic French chanteuse Claudine Longet, and their three children. The Osmonds were regular guests, as were his older brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, who with Mr. Williams had formed the Williams Brothers, the singing act in which he got his start in show business.
Although Mr. Williams’s fame came from television, movie themes were among his best-known recordings, including those from “Love Story,” “Charade,” “The Way We Were” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” Decades after he had stopped recording regularly, his old hits continued to turn up on movie soundtracks: “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in “Bad Santa,” for instance, and his version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in “Bridget Jones’s Dairy.”
Mr. Williams earned 18 gold and three platinum albums and was nominated for Grammy Awards five times, but he never had a gold single. (His version of “Moon River” was not released as a single, although versions by Mr. Mancini and Jerry Butler reached the Top 20.) His biggest hit single — and his only No. 1 — was “Butterfly,” an uncharacteristically rocklike 1957 number in which he was instructed to imitate Elvis Presley.
His more mellow hits included “Canadian Sunset,” “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” “Lonely Street,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Are You Sincere?” He continued to record into the 1970s.
Mr. Williams was close friends with Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at Kennedy’s funeral in 1968, but he considered himself a Republican. By 2009 he had become an outspoken one. “Obama is following Marxist theory,” he told The Radio Times, a British magazine. “He’s taken over the banks and the car industry. He wants the country to fail.”
For 21 years, until 1988, Mr. Williams was the host of a namesake golf tournament in San Diego. He also collected art — works by Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Henry Moore — and in 1987 was named to Arts & Antiques magazine’s list of 100 top American collectors.
Howard Andrew Williams was born on Dec. 3, 1927, in Wall Lake, Iowa, a small town northwest of Des Moines. His father, Jay, a railroad company mail clerk who later went into the real estate and insurance businesses, and his mother, the former Florence Finley, had one daughter and five sons, Andy being the fourth.
He and his older brothers began singing in their local Presbyterian church’s choir, which their father directed. When Andy was 6, the four formed the Williams Brothers singing group and were soon appearing on the radio stations WHO in Des Moines, WLS in Chicago and WLW in Cincinnati.
After the family moved to Los Angeles, Andy was asked to dub Lauren Bacall’s singing voice in the 1944 film “To Have and Have Not.” According to several sources, including Ms. Bacall, the studio ended up using her voice after all, although perhaps a few high notes were the boy’s.
That same year Bing Crosby invited the Williams Brothers to sing backup on his recording of the hit song “Swinging on a Star.” After World War II ended, the brothers toured with the singer, actress and author Kay Thompson for five years. Then the group disbanded, and the three older brothers left show business.
At 24 Mr. Williams moved to New York, where he was hired for a two-week engagement on NBC’s new, live late-night show, “Tonight,” hosted by Steve Allen. As Mr. Williams often told interviewers, when the two weeks ended, he simply kept showing up at the studio and kept being paid.
Both his recording career and his television fame grew from there, leading to contracts with Cadence and Columbia Records and appearances on summer-replacement series. He did so well on television that he was soon given his own year-round prime-time spot.
Mr. Williams began performing in Las Vegas in 1966, as a headliner at the opening of Caesars Palace, and continued to do shows there for two decades. His one film role was in a comedy, “I’d Rather Be Rich” (1964), with Sandra Dee and Robert Goulet, and his one appearance on Broadway was in a two-man, limited-run production with the pianist and composer Michel Legrand at the Uris Theater in 1974.
On a 1991 visit to Branson, the small Ozark Mountains town that had become an entertainment vacation destination, Mr. Williams decided to build a theater there. When the 2,000-seat Andy Williams Moon River Theater opened the next year, it was Branson’s first non-country-music attraction. He performed there several months a year until last November.
Mr. Williams had a sudden burst of international fame in 1999, when British automobile commercials began using his 1960s hit “Music to Watch Girls By.” The song was rereleased and climbed the British charts.
In 2006 he released his first new album in about 15 years, “I Don’t Remember Ever Growing Up,” which included a cover of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” He toured Asia that year and Britain in 2007.
Mr. Williams married Ms. Longet in 1961, and they had two sons, Christian and Robert, and a daughter, Noelle. The couple divorced in 1975. That year Ms. Longet was charged with fatally shooting Spider Sabitch, a ski racing champion, in Aspen, Colo. Mr. Williams stood by his ex-wife, who contended that the shooting was accidental, and accompanied her to court during her trial. She was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In 1991 Mr. Williams married Debbie Haas, a hotel executive. She survives him, as do his children, his brothers Don and Dick, and six grandchildren.
In 2000, Mr. Williams spoke about the passing years to Larry King on Mr. King’s CNN interview show. “I think everybody feels, ‘Where did it go?’ because it goes fast,” he said. “But I have done a lot of things that I love.”
During his 2007 tour in Britain he attributed his longevity to the joy of performing. He told a reporter there, “Perhaps that two hours out onstage is the medicine that everybody should have.”
Originally Posted by MotorAve
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