American music and TV icon, Andy Williams, has died at the age of 84.
Over his long career in entertainment the crooner and TV personality notched up an impressive 18 gold and three platinum records, three EMMY awards and was nominated for five GRAMMYs although he was best known for the song Moon River – a track he regarded as something of a personal trademark, writing in a 2009 memoir:
“When I hear anybody else sing it, it’s all I can to do stop myself from shouting at the television screen, ‘No! That’s my song!’”
The song was first performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but its composer, Henry Mancini, thought the track would be ideal for Williams. His version was recorded in “pretty much one take” and he also performed the song at the 1962 Academy Awards.
Williams shot to fame alongside Elvis Presley, with both artists making their breakthroughs in 1956, and was a contemporary of Frank Sinatra, yet his career in the spotlight in the end outlasted his fellow 60s stars, continuing to perform into his 80s. His music continued to appear at the top of the charts in the 1970s with the theme from Ocsar-winning tearjerker Love Story earning Williams a top ten hit.
The singer once commented: “the old cliche says that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. Well, I was there all right, but my memory of them is blurred — not by any drugs I took but by the relentless pace of the schedule I set myself.”
His singing career began alongside his brothers Dick, Bob and Don in a local Presbyterian church choir. Their father Jay Emerson Williams was the choirmaster and driving force behind the group’s career, sending his children to audition at radio stations in Des Moines, Iowa until they got their chance on WHO radio. They would go on to star in their own show at the El Rancho Room in Las Vegas.
As a teenager, Williams was picked to dub Lauren Becall’s voice on a song in the Bing Crosby film Going My Way, but his performance was cut just before its preview release.
Like many other artists starting out, Williams dabbled with the fashionable sounds of the day during his early solo career – he released a couple of Elvis-tinged tracks including the no. 1 hit Butterfly – but it was what the crooner called his “natural style” and resonate tenor voice which saw him rise to prominence and continue to draw listeners in past his 60s peak.
Still remembered fondly in America as a popular TV personality, Williams hosted his own variety and chat show, which aired in various guises and formats through the 1960s and into 1971. The Andy Williams Show wasn’t just a vehicle for the singer, who would perform his popular hits and casually chat to his guest stars, but also a showcase and launch pad for other artists too.
The show introduced the world to the clean-cut Osmond Brothers and later gave their younger sibling Donny his TV debut. A number of rock and soul acts also made appearance including The Beach Boys, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and a young, then unknown Elton John. Williams enjoyed Elton’s breakthrough single Your Song enough to record his own version.
Outside of his own performances on stage and screen, Williams formed his own record label, Barnaby Records, releasing music by the Everly Brothers, Ray Stevens and Jimmy Buffett.
Williams was famous for his unflappable manner and wholesome, family-friendly image but his private life wasn’t without scandal, and in 1976, his ex-wife Claudine Longet, shot and killed her lover, skiing champion Spider Sabich. While The Rolling Stones mocked the killing with their song Claudine, Williams stood by his former partner, escorting her to court and testifying on her behalf.
Following his TV career, Williams hit the road, relentlessly touring the USA – a testament to his lasting appeal and attraction. Retreating to the town of Branson in 1992, the singer built the $13 million Andy Williams Moon River Theater where the veteran performed two shows a night, six days a week, nine months of the year in the heart of the city’s entertainment district. He only began cutting back to just one show a night in recent times, but then again, retirement was never an option for Andy Williams who told the Associated Press in 2001: “I’ll keep going until I get to the point where I can’t get out on stage.”
Andy Williams is survived by his wife, Debbie, and his three children, Robert, Noelle and Christian.