Andy Williams, the clean-cut crooner of the 1960s, has died. He passed away at his home in Branson, Mo., after a yearlong battle with bladder cancer. Williams had a popular TV variety show and was a hit for the easy-listening crowd, even in the era of anti-war protests and psychedelic rock. His voice reached millions.
"Moon River" became his signature song. He used it to open The Andy Williams Show, his TV variety show. It won him a Grammy, and, as he told the Emmy TV Legends series, he sang it at the Oscars.
"It was a big hit. And I became more known for that record, I think, than Jerry Butler, who had a single on it," he said, "or, eventually, as much as Henry Mancini, who wrote it."
With his easy, mellow style and boyish features, Williams had a wholesome appeal for Middle America, says University of Southern California professor Josh Kun, who runs the Popular Music Project at The Norman Lear Center.
"It was a relief, almost, to hear him," says Kun. "My own grandfather called his style of music 'olden but golden.' "
Howard Andrew Williams was born in Iowa in 1927. As a boy, he performed with his three older brothers at a local Presbyterian church. Their father was their choirmaster, and he got them spots on radio shows in the Midwest.
Williams and his brothers made their way to Hollywood, where they wound up backing Bing Crosby in his 1944 movie Going My Way. After the quartet broke up, Williams struggled as a solo act. In his memoir, he wrote that he was so broke, he was forced to eat his dog's food. But he managed to land a spot on the Tonight Show and a record contract, then his own variety shows on TV, which ran from 1959 to 1971.
On The Andy Williams Show, the crooner introduced the world to the singing Osmond family. "Andy was family, he really was," says Jimmy Osmond. "He was the one who really made it happen for us." Osmond was just 3 years old when Williams brought him, his brother Donny, sister Marie and the rest of the family to TV audiences. For years, they joined Williams' own family on his many TV specials.
"We were lucky enough to tour with him all over the world and be his background singers, and got to sing on songs like 'Moon River' and 'Days of Wine and Roses,' " says Osmond. "One great memory I had was we sang on 'Aquarius' Remember 'Aquarius'? Neil Armstrong was also a big Andy Williams fan, and he took 'Aquarius' to the moon. He played it from the moon, so Andy even took us to the moon."
Williams had 18 gold albums and hits that stretched into the '70s, like the theme from Love Story. His clean-cut persona was only connected with scandal once, when his ex-wife, Claudine Longet, shot and killed her lover. After golfing on the celebrity circuit, Williams settled in Missouri and built a theater. In 1999, he found himself on the charts again, when his version of "Music to Watch Girls By" was used in a TV commercial.
"He was laughing with me and saying, 'Hey Jimmy, here I am, 80 years old and girls are throwing underwear on the stage at me,' " says Osmond. "And I go, 'Andy, you still have it.' "
Andy Williams died Tuesday night at his home in Branson. He was 84 years old.