- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

BRANSON, Mo. Andy Williams is crossing his legs and leaning back in his favorite chair at the center of his dressing room a room larger than many New York City apartments. His eyes smile over the rim of his blue-tinted eyeglasses. His shirt sleeves are rolled, and even his pants are casual.

Everything about him is relaxed perhaps for the first time in his life.

"I've discovered that there's another way of living that I had never known," says the 72-year-old singer after nearly a year's break from performing. "Things have changed."

It is the middle of September, and Mr. Williams is about to begin his ninth season at the Moon River Theatre. He shares the stage with Glen Campbell for two months. His annual Christmas show will follow in November.

Last October, a doctor looked down Mr. Williams' throat and told him to stop singing. The news came after he forced himself to perform despite a bad case of laryngitis. The strain caused a bump to develop on his weary vocal cords; a growth doctors diagnosed as a nonmalignant node.

The doctor's order was a blow to Mr. Williams, who has been performing since he was 8. "I worked. That's just the way it was," he says. "Then this thing happened with my throat last October; I guess it just got tired after singing all my life."

He was told to cancel a month of shows something Mr. Williams had never done. Later, he had to bow out of his entire holiday performance schedule, including a tour planned for Great Britain.

"This is just unheard of," a spokesman told reporters at the time. "He has literally had to cancel maybe a dozen shows, maybe one day here or there, since he started performing as a child."

A few weeks later, a doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., advised Mr. Williams to consider surgery. Mr. Williams wanted a second opinion.

"Bing Crosby had his [throat] operated on, and it changed his voice. It made it lower, the way we all know it. Well, I didn't want to sound like Bing, my voice is much higher," he says. "Julie Andrews also went through the same thing. I called her, and she said it didn't work out too well."

A doctor at UCLA who happened to be a fan told Mr. Williams to take several months off to see if the growth subsided.

He did, and it did.

Now Mr. Williams, one of the hardest working men in show business, admits that taking a year off was probably the best thing he ever did.

"I sat down and had dinner with my wife every night, something I hadn't done in nine years. I read books and went to movies for the first time," he recalls. "I think I saw them all, even 'Chicken Run.' "

Mr. Williams says a tour of Great Britain in January will likely be his last, and he will perform onstage three months a year instead of nine.

"I'm ready to start enjoying things. It will be nice to take it slower and not have anything to do for a change," he says, flashing his bright toothy smile.

His German pointers, Sophie and Cody, romp around the dressing room while Mr. Williams cracks jokes and shares stories about old friends like Bob Hope or Jerry Lewis. Emmy awards have been replaced with family pictures on a large piano in the corner.

Mr. Williams would rather talk about his two boys than his six Christmas albums.

"One of my sons is in the entertainment business, filming an extreme sports show. My other son lives in Costa Rica and is into surfing and development. I plan on spending a lot more of my time with everyone in my family."

Age wasn't a factor in his decision to slow down, Mr. Williams says. He is still active on the golf course and jets regularly between his homes in Palm Springs, Calif., and Branson. He still travels the globe looking for the latest addition to his modern art collection.

But during the last year including the two weeks he had to refrain from talking entirely Mr. Williams says he had the chance to reflect on his long career: the world tours, television shows, the Golden Globes and the 25 albums certified platinum or gold.

"If I were to do things over again, I guess I would like to have spent more time with my kids as they were growing up," he says. "I still love the theater, but I discovered that my family and friends are equally as important as working."

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