- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Perry Como, famous for hits including "Catch a Falling Star" and "Papa Loves Mambo," was a dedicated showman who never forgot his roots as a humble barber, his friends remembered on Sunday.
The fatherly crooner, known for his mellow style and cardigan sweaters, died Saturday at the age of 88 at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Fla.
Mr. Comos daughter, Terri Thibadeau, said her father was with his caregiver when he closed his eyes and died while sitting in a chair in his bedroom. He had suffered from Alzheimers for about two years, she said.
His fellow entertainers mourned the singer Bing Crosby once called "the man who invented casual."
"In the times I was in his company, I found him to be a man who cared about listening to other people," comedian Don Rickles said. "Perry was a special kind of guy whose charisma will never be matched."
Comic Jack Swersie, who opened for Mr. Como during the singers last three tours in the early 1990s, said he was amazed at how active the singer was even in his later years.
"He was, simply put, the nicest person I have ever met and the greatest man I ever worked with," Mr. Swersie said.
Mr. Como almost never ignored a fan, the comedian added, even when it was inconvenient.
"One time our tour bus broke down outside of Pittsburgh, and we all took refuge in this roadside diner," Mr. Swersie recalled. "Of course, the employees all got on the phone immediately and told their friends and relatives who was stuck in their restaurant."
The diner quickly filled with fans seeking autographs and pictures with Mr. Como.
"Perry didnt think he was better than anybody," Mr. Swersie said. "He treated everybody with respect and was always willing to give of himself."
Born in Canonsburg, Pa., one of 13 children of Italian immigrants, Mr. Como left his job as a steel-town barber in the 1930s to sing with big bands. His songs became a mainstay of radio and jukeboxes in the late 1940s, and he pioneered variety shows in the 1950s. In 1945, Mr. Como had his first million-selling hit, "Till the End of Time."
Rock n roll eventually replaced the old-time crooners on the music charts, but Mr. Como continued performing on television in later decades, most notably with his famed Christmas specials.
His career saw a resurgence in the 1970s with songs like "Its Impossible," "And I Love You So," which was later performed by "American Pie" singer Don McLean.
In 1987, President Reagan presented Mr. Como with a Kennedy Center Honor for outstanding achievement in the performing arts.
Neighbors said the singer never let the accolades go to his head.
Longtime friend Harry Pezzullo, golf director emeritus at Ballen Isles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, said he and Mr. Como played in many charity golf tournaments.
"This was the most charitable man I met in my life," he said. "Thats what people loved. He never said 'no when it was a charity. This guy was ready to give you a helping hand."
His wife, Roselle Como, died in August 1998, less than two weeks after she and Mr. Como celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. At a charity event weeks later, Mr. Como dedicated his hit "And I Love You So" to her, Mr. Pezzullo said.
Neighbors Bob and Bea Snyder said they knew Mr. Como for two decades. He enjoyed golfing, fishing and talking with neighbors in the sleepy community of Jupiter Inlet Colony at the southern end of Jupiter Island.
The couple has a vintage barber chair in their living room, and Mr. Como, remembering his former career as a barber, used to offer to cut Bob Snyders hair.
"He offered every time he saw my chair," said Mr. Snyder, 69. "He said, 'I dont know how long Ill be able to sing so I want to keep up with my barbers shears."
Mr. Comos wake is scheduled for Thursday evening at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Palm Beach. A funeral Mass will be held the next morning.


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