Andy Williams His Talent Was Wider Than a Mile – Now Crossing in Style
Submitted by Sandy Graham
On Friday, November 4, 2011, it was reported in the press that American crooner Andy Williams had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. The singer confirmed the news during an appearance that weekend at his Moon River Theater in Branson. He traveled to Houston, Texas for chemotherapy treatments and then moved with his wife, Debbie, to Malibu, California, to be closer to cancer specialists in the Los Angeles area.
On July 19, 2012, Williams’ theater announced that Andy Williams had returned to Branson following cancer treatment and was "in good spirits and getting stronger every day" and had hoped to take the stage as scheduled in September. However, on September 25, 2012, Williams died at the age of 84, having suffered from bladder cancer for a year. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Andy Williams in the late 1970’s and one of his greatest characteristics, besides the amazing voice, was his wicked sense of humour. At one show at Hamilton Place in Ontario, he came out to a rousing round of applause, then stopped in his tracks, turned his back on the audience, pretended to do up his fly, then did an about face and said ‘okay that’s a bit better!’. The same slapstick humour prevailed when he would come out after intermission with the then popular Kodak Instamatic camera and say, ‘you are such a great audience I want to take a picture of you all!’ Then he would hesitate for a second and say ‘ I can’t seem to get you all in the photo. Can you sit just a little bit closer together?’. Perfect delivery.
Howard Andrew Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa and had three older brothers – Bob, Don, and Dick. Williams began a solo career began in 1953, recording six sides for the RCA Victor' label , but none were hits. In 1954, he was signed to Cadence Records, a small label in New York . His third single, "Canadian Sunset" reached No. 7 in August 1956, and was followed by his only No. 1 hit, "Butterfly" in February 1957. More hits followed, including "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" (U.S. #11), "Are You Sincere" (U.S. #3 in February 1958), "The Village of St. Bernadette" (U.S. #7 in December 1959), "Lonely Street" (U.S. #5 in September 1959), and "I Like Your Kind Of Love" with Peggy Powers (U.S. #8 in May 1957) before Williams moved to Columbia Records in 1961. He then had another hit with "Can't Get Used to Losing You" (U.S. #2). In terms of chart popularity, the Cadence era was Williams' peak although songs he recorded on Columbia became much bigger standards. His fellow Cadence-era labelmates like The Everly Brothers, Lenny Welch, The Chordettes, and Johnny Tillotson.
During the 1960s, Williams became one of the most popular vocalists in the country, indeed the world and was signed to what was at that time the biggest recording contract in history. He was mostly an album artist, and at one time he had earned more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. By 1973 he had earned as many as 18 gold album awards. His hit albums from this period were Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses (number one for 16 weeks in mid-1963), The Andy Williams Christmas Album, Dear Heart, The Shadow of Your Smile, Love, Andy, Get Together with Andy Williams, and Love Story.. In the UK, Williams continued to reach high chart status until 1978. The albums Can't Help Falling In Love (1970), Andy Williams Show (1970) Home Lovin Man ( #1 1971), Solitaire (1973), The Way We Were (1974) and Reflections (1978) all reached the Top 10.
Williams started a collaborative relationship with Henry Mancini, although they never recorded together. Williams was asked to sing Mancini and Johnny Mercer's song "Moon River" at the 1962 Oscar Awards (where it won), and it soon became Williams' theme song; however, because it was never released as a single, "Moon River" was never actually a chart hit for Williams. In 1968, Columbia released a 45-rpm record of two songs Williams sang at the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy, his close friend: "Ave Maria" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
His easy going manner made him a natural to star of his own weekly television variety show in 1962. This popular series, The Andy Williams Show, pulled in three Emmy Awards for outstanding variety program. He gave up the variety show in 1971 while it was still popular and reduced his show to three specials per year. His Christmas specials, which appeared regularly until 1974 and intermittently from 1982 into the 1990s, were among the most popular of the genre. Williams recorded a total of eight Christmas albums over the years and was known as "Mr. Christmas" with his perennial Christmas specials and the success of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", which appears on all of his Christmas albums. Williams hosted the most Grammy telecasts, from the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1971 through the 19th Annual Grammy Awards in 1977, seven consecutive shows. He returned to television to do a syndicated half-hour series in 1976–77.
In the early 1970s, when the Nixon Administration attempted to deport John Lennon, Andy Williams was an outspoken defender of the former Beatles right to stay in the United States. Williams met French-born Claudine Longet when he pulled over to aid her on a Las Vegas road. She was a dancer at the time at the Folies Bergère. They married on December 15, 1961. The union produced three children: Noelle, Christian, and Robert within the next eight years.
After a lengthy separation, Williams and Longet divorced in 1975. In March 1976, Longet was charged with fatally shooting her boyfriend, alpine ski racer Spider Sabich, in Aspen. Williams played a public role in the subsequent events, escorting her to and from the courtroom, testifying to her character at the trial, and providing legal assistance. Longet claimed the shooting was accidental, and eventually received 30 days in jail. Andy Williams married a second time (May 3, 1991), to the former Debbie Meyer, whom he met through a common friend. They had homes in Branson, Missouri, and La Quinta, California, where he was known as the "honorary Mayor". Williams' birthplace in Iowa is a tourist attraction, and is open most of the year.
Andy Williams made singing and entertaining look easy with his laid back smooth voice and manner. There is no doubt the Andy Williams will cross over to the other side with the grace and elegance he was known for here.