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Legendary singer Andy Williams passed away Tuesday night at his home in Branson. His death came after a long battle with bladder cancer, his family said through a statement sent out by public relations firm The Sheridan Company. Tributes are pouring in from politicians, entertainers, and many people from around America on facebook and Twitter. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark talks to three performing icons who worked closely with the Williams family.
(sound: Moon River)
That is, almost certainly, Williams' most famous tune. His version of the Oscar-winning song Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's became the trademark for his gentle, velvety voice.
There aren’t many people in the Ozarks who haven’t heard of Andy Williams. According to his website, Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa on December 3, 1927. He began his singing career early with his three older brothers: Bob, Dick and Don.
The Williams Brothers Quartet made their debut when Andy was eight years old, when the boys became regulars on a local radio show in Des Moines, Iowa. The boys continued their radio fame, and it was that exposure that eventually caught the attention of Bing Crosby. The Williams brothers made their first professional recording with Crosby, called “Swinging on a Star,” which was a huge hit nationwide in 1944. For the young Andy Williams, the rest was history.
The family group disbanded in 1951. Williams got a chance to work and train future stars, like the Osmond family, who has performed in Branson for years. One of the brothers, Jay Osmond, remembers those days well.
“It was because of Andy that we were able to get into show business and to meet all the wonderful stars we’ve met. It was his show that motivated us to not only continue to develop our vocal talents, but we learned to dance and play instruments. We did every kind of thing you could imagine.”
One memory in particular takes Osmond back to the days when his family and Williams recorded the song “Aquarius.” Osmond says that was a favorite of astronaut Neil Armstrong.
“Neil Armstrong was a big Andy Williams fan. As you know, that song, “Aquarius”—we sang that with Andy. He was so excited that he took that record all the way to the moon and played on the moon and left it there. That was such an honor not only to Andy but to us as well.”
Osmond also recalls another happy memory he had when he performed on Williams’ show as a kid. He remembers singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with Julie Andrews and Williams for the show one night. Osmond says none of those opportunities would have been available to his family without Williams launching them into stardom.
According to a biography from the singer's website, in 1991, Williams took a trip to Branson, Missouri, to see his friend, Ray Stevens. He was so taken with the town that he decided to stay.
He opened the Moon River Theater, a move that opened the door for other non-country performers to come and settle in Branson. At the theater, he shared the stage with stars like Glen Campbell, Petula Clark, the Osmonds, and the Lennon Sisters.
Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters shares one special Christmas memory she has of Williams.
“I’ll never forget one Christmas we were doing the Christmas show with him at Sahara Tahoe, Nevada, and across the street at Harrah's Club, Perry Como was performing. Well, during the day and towards the evening, one Sunday we all had off, we took our children, Andy had his children, Perry had his children and grandchildren, and we went Christmas caroling, all the kids from house to house, our brothers and sisters, and… it was out of a movie.”
And performer Debbie Boone says she specifically treasures her moments singing at the Moon River Theatre. Her grandfather, Red Foley, was a country music sensation and friend of Williams.
“Back several years ago, Andy was having some vocal issues and was ordered by his doctor to have vocal rest, so my dad and I filled in for the Christmas season at his theater. It was such a great memory for me. The theater is the most gorgeous theater; it’s one of my favorite places.”
According to the statement issued by The Sheridan Company, Williams has survived by his wife Debbie and his three children, Robert, Noelle and Christian. Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.