The singer known for his easy-listening style and his wholesome, middle-America appeal was the antithesis of the counterculture that gave rise to rock ‘n’ roll.
“The old cliche says that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there,” he once recalled. “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.”
Mr. Williams‘ plaintive tenor, boyish features and clean-cut demeanor helped him outlast many of the decade’s rock stars and fellow crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He remained on the charts into the 1970s, hosting hugely popular Christmas television specials and becoming closely associated with the holiday standard “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Mr. Williams, who continued to perform into his 80s at the Moon River Theatre he built in Branson, Mo., announced in November that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and vowed to return to performing the following year, his 75th in show business.
The 84-year-old entertainer died Tuesday night at his Branson home following a yearlong battle with the disease, his Los Angeles-based publicist, Paul Shefrin, said Wednesday.
Mr. Williams became a major star in 1956, the same year as Elvis Presley, with the Sinatra-like swing number “Canadian Sunset.” For a time, he was pushed into such Presley imitations as “Lips of Wine” and the No. 1 smash “Butterfly.”
But he mostly stuck to what he called his “natural style” and kept it up throughout his career. In 1970, when even Sinatra had temporarily retired, Mr. Williams was in the top 10 with the theme from “Love Story,” the Oscar-winning tearjerker. He had 18 gold records, three platinum and five Grammy Award nominations.
Mr. Williams also was the first host of the live Grammy telecast and hosted the show for seven consecutive years, beginning in 1971.
Movie songs became a specialty, including his signature “Moon River.” The longing Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini ballad was his most famous song, even though he never released it as a single because his record company feared lines such as “my huckleberry friend” were too confusing and old-fashioned for teens.
The song was first performed by Audrey Hepburn in the beloved 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany‘s,” but Mancini thought “Moon River” ideal for Mr. Williams, who recorded it in “pretty much one take” and also sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards. Although “Moon River” was covered by countless artists and became a hit single for Jerry Butler, Mr. Williams made the song his personal brand. In fact, he insisted on it.
“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!’ ” Mr. Williams wrote in his 2009 memoir titled, fittingly, “Moon River and Me.”
“The Andy Williams Show,” which lasted in various formats through the 1960s and into 1971, won three Emmys and featured Mr. Williams alternately performing his stable of hits and bantering with guest stars.
It was on that show that Mr. Williams — who launched his own career as part of an all-brother quartet — introduced the world to another clean-cut act — the original four singing Osmond Brothers of Utah. Their younger sibling, Donny, also made his debut on Mr. Williams‘ show, in 1963, when he was 6 years old. Four decades later, the Osmonds and Mr. Williams reunited at his theater in Branson.
Mr. Williams did book some rock and soul acts, including the Beach Boys, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. On one show, in 1970, Mr. Williams sang “Heaven Help Us All” with Ray Charles, Mama Cass and a then-little known Elton John, a vision to Mr. Williams in his rhinestone glasses and black cape. But Mr. Williams liked him and his breakthrough hit “Your Song” enough to record it himself.View Entire Story
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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