Legendary singer Andy Williams, known for his smooth voice and classics such as “Moon River,” died after a year-long battle with bladder cancer at his Branson, Missouri, home Tuesday night, his family said.
Williams, 84, began his singing career as a child in a quartet with his brothers, but rose to stardom as a solo act starting in the 1950s.
“The Andy Williams Show,” a weekly television variety program that ran for nine years on NBC starting in 1962, and a dozen TV specials from 1959 through 1987 made Williams a household name in the United States.
He spent the last 20 years of his career performing on his own stage at his Moon River Theatre in Branson.
Marie Osmond, who made her TV debut on his show at age 3, said Williams was “the first person to affect my career.”
“The group ‘The Osmonds’ would not exist without the foresight and generosity of our mentor, Andy Williams,” Osmond said.
“No one sang more beautifully than Andy Williams,” she said. “Hearing his version of ‘Moon River’ never failed to move me deeply. I can’t imagine the holiday season without Andy Williams; we did so many specials together.”
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“Moon River” became his theme song after he performed it at the 1962 Academy Awards, where it won an Oscar for best song in a movie. Audrey Hepburn sang the Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini composition in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Williams’ recording career reached superstar status in 1963 when his album “Days of Wine and Roses” spent 16 weeks at the top of the U.S. music charts.
His variety TV show, which promoted the careers of many other artists including the Osmonds, won high ratings and three Emmys.
Williams hosted the first live Grammy Awards telecast at the Hollywood Palladium in 1971. He went on to host for seven years straight.
“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,” said Neil Portnow, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. “Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and all who will miss this American treasure.”
The singer hosted five Christmas television specials, between 1973 and 1985, along with seven other television specials, the first in 1959 and the last in 1987.
Williams, who also had a home in La Quinta, California, is survived by his wife of 21 years, Debbie, and his three children with French singer Claudine Longet — Robert, Noelle and Christian.
He was married to Longet from 1961 until their divorce in 1975. A year later, she was charged with the fatal shooting of her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich.
Williams stood by Longet, who claimed the shooting was accidental. She spent a month in jail.
Williams’ Branson theater was the first non-country venue built in the small Missouri tourist mecca.
He was born on December 3, 1927, in Wall Lake, Iowa, where he began singing with brothers Bob, Dick and Don in a Presbyterian church choir led by their parents.
Williams was just eight when he made his professional singing debut with the Williams Brothers Quartet. The brothers were regular performers on radio station WHO’s “Iowa’s Barn Dance Show” in Des Moines, Iowa. Their popularity grew, taking the brothers to national stations, including WLS in Chicago and WLW in Cincinnati.