Maintaining a 75-year career in showbusiness, Williams transitioned from child singer to heartthrob crooner, TV show host, kudocast mainstay and finally a local institution in his adopted home of Branson. Possessing an innate sense of cool that stayed with him even long after his music ceased to be fashionable, Williams also recorded the definitive versions of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" and "Happy Heart."
His plaintive tenor, boyish features and easy demeanor helped him outlast many of the rock stars who had displaced him, as well as such contemporaries as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He remained on the charts into the 1970s, and continued to perform into his 80s at the Moon River Theater he built in Branson.
He became a major star the same year as Elvis Presley, 1956, with the Sinatra-like "Canadian Sunset," and for a time he was pushed into such Presley imitations as "Lips of Wine" and the No. 1 smash "Butterfly." But he mostly stuck to what he called his "natural style," and kept it up throughout his career. In 1970, when even Sinatra had given up and (temporarily) retired, Williams was in the top 10 with the theme from "Love Story," the Oscar-winning tearjerker. He had 18 gold records and three platinum, was nominated for five Grammy awards and hosted the Grammy ceremonies seven years in a row.
Movie songs became a specialty, from "Love Story" and "Days of Wine and Roses" to "Moon River." The latter Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini ballad was his most famous song, even though he never released it as a single because his record company feared such lines as "my huckleberry friend" were too confusing and old-fashioned for teens. The song was first performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but Mancini thought "Moon River" ideal for Williams, who recorded it in "pretty much one take" and also sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards. Although "Moon River" was covered by countless artists and became a hit single for Jerry Butler, Williams made the song his personal brand. In fact, he insisted on it.
"When I hear anybody else sing it, it's all I can to do stop myself from shouting at the television screen, 'No! That's my song!'" Williams wrote in his 2009 memoir, titled, fittingly, "Moon River and Me."
"The Andy Williams Show," which lasted in various formats from 1962 until 1971, won three Emmys. It was on that show that Williams -- who launched his own career as part of an all-brother quartet -- introduced the world to another clean-cut act -- the original four singing Osmond Brothers of Utah. Their younger sibling Donny also made his debut on Williams' show, in 1963 when he was 6 years old.
Williams did book some rock and soul acts, including the Beach Boys, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. On one show in 1970, Williams sang "Heaven Help Us All" with Ray Charles, Mama Cass and a then-little known Elton John.
Williams' act was, apparently, not an act. The singer's unflappable manner on television and in concert was mirrored offstage.
"I guess I've never really been aggressive, although almost everybody else in show business fights and gouges and knees to get where they want to be," he once said. "My trouble is, I'm not constructed temperamentally along those lines."
His wholesome image endured one jarring interlude. In 1976, his ex-wife, former Las Vegas showgirl Claudine Longet, shot and killed her lover, skiing champion Spider Sabich. Longet, who said it was an accident, spent only a week in jail. Williams stood by her, escorting her to the courthouse throughout the trial and testifying on her behalf.
He was born Howard Andrew Williams in Wall Lake, Iowa. In his memoir, Williams remembered himself as a shy boy who concealed his insecurity "behind a veneer of cheek and self-confidence." Of Wall Lake, Williams joked that it was so small, and had so little to do, that crowds would gather just to watch someone get a haircut.
Williams began performing with his older brothers Dick, Bob and Don in the local Presbyterian church choir. Their father, postal worker and insurance man Jay Emerson Williams, was the choirmaster and the force behind his children's career. When Andy was eight-years-old, Williams' father brought the kids for an audition on Des Moines radio station WHO's Iowa Barn Dance. They were finally accepted after repeated rejections, their show bringing them attention from Chicago, Cincinnati and Hollywood. Another star at WHO was a young sportscaster named Ronald Reagan, who would later praise Williams as a "national treasure."
The brothers joined Bing Crosby in recording the hit "Swinging on a Star" in 1944 for Crosby's film "Going My Way," and Andy, barely a teenager, was picked to dub Lauren Bacall's voice on a song for the film "To Have and Have Not." His voice stayed in the film until the preview, when it was cut because it didn't sound like Bacall's.
Later the brothers worked with Kay Thompson of eventual "Eloise" fame, then a singer who had taken a position as vocal coach at MGM studios, working with Judy Garland, June Allyson and others. After three months of training, Thompson and the Williams Brothers became a hot nationwide touring draw, earning a peak of $25,000 per week.
Williams, analyzing their success, once said: "Somehow we managed to work up and sustain an almost unbearable pitch of speed and rhythm."
After five years, the three older brothers, who were starting their own families, had tired of the constant travel and left to pursue other careers. Williams initially struggled launching himself as a solo act, and was so broke at one point that he resorted to eating food intended for his two dogs.
A two-year TV stint on Steve Allen's "Tonight Show" and a contract with Cadence Records turned things around. In the early 1960s, Williams signed to Columbia Records while also forming his own label, Barnaby Records, which released music by the Everly Brothers and Ray Stevens as well as the first recordings from a young Jimmy Buffett.
Williams was a lifelong Republican who once accused President Barack Obama of "following Marxist theory." But he acknowledged experimenting with LSD, opposed the Richard Nixon administration's efforts in the 1970s to deport John Lennon, and, in 1968, was an energetic supporter of Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign. When Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968, just after winning the California Democratic primary, Williams sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at his funeral.
After leaving TV, Williams headed back on the road, where his many Christmas shows and albums made him a huge draw during the holidays. Eventually growing weary of touring, he decided to settle in Branson.
When he arrived in 1992, the town was dominated by country music performers, but Williams changed that, building the classy, $13 million Andy Williams Moon River Theater in the heart of the city's entertainment district and performing two shows a night, six days a week, nine months of the year. Only in recent years did he begin to cut back to one show a night.
Not surprisingly, his most popular time of the year was Christmas, although he acknowledged that not everyone in Hollywood accepted his move to the Midwest.
"The fact is most of my friends in L.A. still think I'm nuts for coming here," he told The Associated Press in 1998.
Retirement was never on his schedule. As he told the AP in 2001: "I'll keep going until I get to the point where I can't get out on stage."
Williams is survived by his wife, Debbie, and three children.
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