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Andy Williams dead at 84

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 8:26 am | Updated: 12:18 pm, Wed Sep 26, 2012.

Legendary entertainer Andy Williams died Tuesday evening, according to his publicist and theater.

Williams, 84, had been battling bladder cancer for about a year.

Publicist Paul Shefrin released information this morning that Williams died at his Branson home.

Williams told the audience at his Christmas show at Moon River Theatre last year he had bladder cancer.

“I do have cancer of the bladder,” the 83-year-old Williams said. “But that is no longer a death sentence. People with cancer are getting through this thing. They’re kicking it, and they’re winning more and more every year. And I’m going to be one of them.”

Williams recorded a string of hit songs in the 1950s and ’60s and hosted his own television variety show for nearly a decade.

Williams has recorded 18 gold and three platinum albums in his long career. He opened the Moon River Theatre in Branson in May of 1992.

Born Dec. 3, 1927, Williams began his  career in his hometown of Wall  Lake, Iowa. It was there he began singing with his three brothers, Bob, Dick and Don, in a local Presbyterian church choir that was established by his parents. At the age of 8, Andy made his professional singing debut as part of the Williams Brothers Quartet. The brothers became regulars on radio station WHO’s “Iowa’s Barn Dance Show” in Des Moines, Iowa. From there, the brothers continued their radio days being prominently featured on national stations like WLS in Chicago and WLW in Cincinnati.

The widespread radio exposure brought the boys a considerable following which eventually caught the attention of Bing Crosby. With Crosby, Andy and his brothers made their first professional recording, “Swinging on a Star” which became a hit in 1944.

In 1947, Williams and his brothers teamed up with comedienne Kay Thompson (who also wrote the popular children’s book series “Eloise”) for a successful nightclub act. Thompson and the brothers spend the next few years performing all over the United States and in London. But it all came to an end in 1951 as the group disbanded and each brother went their own way. Williams chose to move to New York and continued to pursue his vocal career.

While in New York, he became a regular performer on Steve Allen’s “Tonight Show.” For 2 ½ years he appeared on the “Tonight Show” which led to his first recording contract with Cadence Records.

It wasn’t long before he had his first top 10 hit with “Canadian Sunset”.  What followed was a string of hits that included “Butterfly”, “Lonely Street”, “The Village of St. Bernadette”, and “The Hawaiian Wedding Song” for which he received the first of his five Grammy Awards nominations.

His work in television continued during this time period with regular guest appearances on the Dinah Shore and Perry Como Shows and in 1958, for 13 weeks he presented “The Chevy Showroom with Andy Williams”. In the summer of 1959, he was chosen by CBS to host a variety program that was to replace “The Gary Moore Show” for a 13 week period. When this series of shows concluded he began to concentrate on one-hour  television specials. The first, “Music from Schubert Alley,” was presented by NBC on November 13, 1959.

The first event that kicked Andy’s career into high gear was the change of recording labels. In 1962, he began his 25 year association with Columbia Records. Almost immediately he scored his first Top 10 hit for Columbia, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”. Many more hits were to follow, but none would become more associated with Andy Williams than “Moon River,” the Oscar winning song from the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” This song quickly became his theme song and propelled his album, “Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes,” to the top of the charts. The following year he released the album, “Days of Wine and Roses” which spent 16 weeks at No. 1 and stayed on the chart for over 100 weeks. His subsequent recordings were best sellers and resulted in his receiving 18 gold and 3 platinum certified albums.

The second event that helped make Andy a superstar was the debut of his weekly television series, “The Andy Williams Show.” Debuting on Sept. 16, 1962, he premiered his new variety show on NBC that would eventually last for nine years and would win three Emmy Awards for Best  Musical/Variety Series (1963, 1966 and 1967). It was one of NBC’s top rated programs. From this series he began his classic Christmas specials that featured the entire Williams family.

Live performances were still a big part of his career and in 1966, he opened Caesar’s Palace and subsequently headlined at the famed Las  Vegas hotel for the next 20 years.

In 1991, Williams took a trip to Branson to see his friend Ray Stevens who had just opened a theater in the growing country music town and tourist destination. Williams was so taken with the town, the people and the  amazing talent the town featured that he began to make his own plans for becoming a part of the small Ozarks community.

His plans to build a $12 million state of the art theater came to fruition as the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre opened it doors May 1, 1992.

Thanks to his ground-breaking decision, other non-country performers and theme shows began to move in to the town that would soon be know as the Live Music Show Capital of the World.

The Moon River Theatre, a 48,000 square foot structure, is set among 16 acres landscaped with foliage, rock formation, waterfalls and a rippling stream. It won the 1992 Conservation Award for Developed Land Use from the State of Missouri and is the only theatre ever to be featured in  Architectural Digest.

For the interior, it was Williams' idea to create a beautiful auditorium for live performances along with a lobby area that had a museum-like  atmosphere so that he could display pieces of art from his personal collection.

Williams and his wife Debbie, who were together over 26 years, had resided in Branson just a few miles from the theater near Lake Taneycomo.

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  • jimmyv posted at 10:49 pm on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    jimmyv Posts: 0

    Andy Williams was always a first class act. The man and the music was always a great inspiration to me the last several decades. His gentle voice could pick up your spirits and make you feel good even on your worse days. He was always a gentleman to people. I had met him several times in his dressing room at the Moon River Theater, and he was always very gracious. He was truly a national treasure as President Reagan once called him. There will never be another Andy Williams. He will be greatly missed by the people of Branson, and fans all over the world who loved him. He certainly earned the titles of "Mr. Branson" & "Mr. Christmas." Andy can now sing with the angels in heaven. Andy, we all love you dearly, and will miss you always. Thanks for the memories. Your music and legacy will live on forever !! God Bless !!

  • Bus Driver Woody posted at 3:17 pm on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    Bus Driver Woody Posts: 0

    I brought many many Bus loads of Passengers to andys show,,He had the best Band and Sound in Branson hands down. I wish all the music talent great luck in thier future.

  • lyndadu posted at 11:49 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    lyndadu Posts: 0

    I always associated Christmas with Andy Williams. Our family always looked forward to his Christmas shows on the TV when I was growing up. I was able to see his Branson show a couple of years ago with my child and grandchildren. We were just saying today that we were so glad that we got to see him before he passed. He never lost his voice--it was just as smooth as it was when he was younger. Rest in peace Mr. Williams--you will be missed. Many blessings to the family he has left behind.

  • gvravel posted at 9:15 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    gvravel Posts: 0

    RIP Andy -- You were the best ever.