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Thursday, September 27, 2012


Moon River singer Andy Williams charmed fans for decades with his smooth crooning, easygoing manner and boyish good looks and became one of America's most beloved entertainers.

Williams, who died of bladder cancer Tuesday at his Branson, Mo., home at age 84, had a career that spanned nearly 75 years. After rising to stardom in the
mid-1950s, Williams became an unflappable presence in the turbulent 1960s with his long-running, Emmy Award-winning variety show and string of hit albums. During the 1970s, his TV Christmas specials became a holiday staple, and he hosted the Grammy Awards from 1971 through 1977. For the past 20 years, he had performed regularly at his Moon River Theatre in Branson.

President Reagan once described Williams' voice as "a national treasure." That sentiment was echoed Wednesday by Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, who said in a statement: "The entertainment industry has lost a giant piece of its living history today, but Williams' legacy will forever be enshrined in the annals of music and television. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and all who will miss this American treasure."

The Wall Lake, Iowa, native did his first radio shows with his three older siblings as the Williams Brothers quartet in 1938. They eventually appeared on the song Swinging on a Star with Bing Crosby in 1944 and that led to appearances in several musical films. They worked four years in a nightclub act with singer Kay Thompson before his brothers called it quits.
Williams went solo in 1953 and a year later landed a regular spot on Steve Allen's Tonight Show. He signed with Cadence Records and in 1956 had his first top-10 hit with Canadian Sunset. The Elvis Presley-imitating Butterfly followed and earned him the only No. 1 hit of his career.

His 1962 Academy Awards performance of Moon River, the Oscar-winning Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song from Breakfast at Tiffany's , set the tone for the rest of his career. Though his version was never released as a single (it was an R&B hit for Jerry Butler in 1961), Moon River became Williams' song. Show tunes would fuel many of his 18 gold albums, which included Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes, Days of Wine and Roses, The Shadow of Your Smile, Great Songs from My Fair Lady and Other Broadway Hits and Born Free.

When Caesars Palace casino and nightclub opened in Las Vegas in 1966, Williams performed and would go on to headline there for the next 20 years. Christmas was a special time for Williams and he recorded eight holiday albums, all of which included his It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which is now a yuletide standard.

In 1991, William visited his brother Don in Branson. Don Williams managed Ray Stevens, who had a theater there, and encouraged his brother to open his own. Moon River Theatre opened in 1992 and Williams had most recently performed there in 2011.

The singer is survived by his wife, Debbie, and his three children Robert, Noelle and Christian, from his marriage to Claudine Longet (1961 to 1975). A year after their divorce, Longet was charged with fatally shooting her boyfriend, ski racer Spider Sabich, in Aspen, and Williams famously stood by her throughout the trial. She was convicted of criminal negligence and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

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