September 27, 2012

'Moon River' crooner Andy Williams dies at 84

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — For many Americans, particularly those on the older — OK, squarer — side of the generation gap, Andy Williams was part of the soundtrack of the 1960s and '70s, with easy-listening hits like "Moon River," the "Love Story" theme and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" from his beloved Christmas TV specials.

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FILE - This Feb. 23, 1978 file photo shows performer and host Andy Williams at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Williams, who had a string of gold albums and hosted several variety shows and specials like "The Andy Williams Show," died Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, at his home in Branson, Missouri, following a yearlong battle with bladder cancer, his Los Angeles-based publicist, Paul Shefrin, said Wednesday. He was 84. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, file)

AP

FILE - In this July 25, 2004 file photo, U.S. singer Andy Williams smiles as he speaks to reporters during his news conference at a Tokyo hotel. Emmy-winning TV host and "Moon River" crooner Williams died Tuesday night, Sept, 25, 2012 at his home in Branson, Mo., following a year-long battle with bladder cancer. He was 84. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

AP

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The singer known for his wholesome, middle-America appeal was the antithesis of the counterculture that produced rock and roll.

"The old cliche says that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't there," Williams 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."

The entertainer, who died Tuesday night at his Branson home following a yearlong battle with bladder cancer, had a plaintive tenor, boyish features and clean-cut demeanor that 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 and continued to perform into his 80s.

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, 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.

Williams was also the first host of the live Grammy awards 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 such lines as "my huckleberry friend" were too confusing and old-fashioned for teens.

The song was first performed by Audrey Hepburn in the cherished 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but Mancini thought "Moon River" ideal for 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, 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!'" 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 Williams alternately performing his stable of hits and bantering with guest stars.

It was on that show that 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. Four decades later, the Osmonds and Williams would find themselves in close proximity again, sharing Williams' Moon River Theater in Branson.

Williams did book some rock and soul acts, including the Beach Boys, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. On one show, in 1970, Williams sang "Heaven Help Us All" with Ray Charles, Mama Cass and a then-little known Elton John, a vision to Williams in his rhinestone glasses and black cape. But Williams liked him and his breakthrough hit "Your Song" enough to record it himself.

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Additional Photos

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FILE - In a Dec. 19, 1974 file photo, American singer Andy Williams and his wife Claudine Longet, shown upon arrival at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, for the Royal Charity World premiere of "The Man With the Golden Gun." Emmy-winning TV host and "Moon River" crooner Williams died Tuesday night, Sept, 25, 2012 at his home in Branson, Mo., following a year-long battle with bladder cancer. He was 84. (AP Photo/Press Association, File)

AP

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FILE - In a May 12, 1961 file photo, Andy Williams performs a song on a television show. Emmy-winning TV host and "Moon River" crooner Williams died Tuesday night, Sept, 25, 2012 at his home in Branson, Mo., following a year-long battle with bladder cancer. He was 84. (AP Photo, File)

AP

click image to enlarge

FILE - This Aug. 30, 1974 file photo shows entertainer Andy Williams in New York. Williams, who had a string of gold albums and hosted several variety shows and specials such as, "The Andy Williams Show," died Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, at his home in Branson, Missouri, following a yearlong battle with bladder cancer, his Los Angeles-based publicist, Paul Shefrin, said Wednesday. He was 84. (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey, file)

AP



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