It is emblematic of the era in which we live. Were it a decade ago, there would be other faces, a decade hence, still others. Here in the present we are now experiencing the loss of many celebrities and notable persons whose star reached apogee in the 1950s and 60s. Just such a loss occurred last week with the death of singer Andy Williams.
While today’s average teenager would likely have no idea who Williams was, those of a certain age will easily recall a string of Grammy-nominated hits: Canadian Sunset; Butterfly; Lonely Street; and The Hawaiian Wedding Song. Then there was the Oscar-winning song, Moon River, from the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn. All tolled, Williams received 18 gold and three platinum albums over his long career.
Williams’ TV career took off in 1962 with the start of The Andy Williams Show, a weekly variety series on NBC. The show ran nine years and won three Emmy Awards for best musical/variety series. It was around this time Williams’ annual holiday specials, featuring the Williams family, became American Christmas classics.
As many stars from his particular era of ascent did, Williams took his road act to a permanent home in Branson, Missouri. In 1992, this meant opening the $12 Million Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson. Owing to his love of live performance, Williams played two concerts a night, six days a week for nine months of the year. In recent years, he cut back to just one performance a night.
Williams and his wife, Debbie, divided their time between Branson and La Quinta, Calif. In 2007, he opened the Moon River Grill a restaurant in Branson, featuring some of his mother’s favorite recipes.
Williams often expressed his desire to keep the show going as long as possible. In 2001, he told The Associated Press, “I’ll keep going until I get to the point where I can’t get out on stage.” Williams continued to perform even after his cancer diagnosis in 2011.
While many of us remember these kinds of things about Williams, there were other aspects of his life worth recalling. Among the more interesting is the fact that Williams was friends with Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel. While it is often reported that Williams was present when Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, he was not. As reported by the Daily Telegraph, “On the June night in 1968 that Bobby Kennedy won the election for California’s delegates to the Democratic presidential convention, the senator concluded his televised victory speech with a secret signal to Andy and [his then-wife] Claudine, who were watching at home… Williams was looking in the mirror putting on his tie when he heard chaotic noises coming from the television speakers. He ran to the set and discovered to his horror that his friend had been shot.”
As the Atlantic magazine adds, “By the time the Williamses reached the hospital, RFK was beyond saving. John Glenn, then a NASA hero with a Senate career still ahead of him, went to get clothes to replace Kennedy’s blood-soaked suit. But when he returned, he didn’t have a tie, so Williams took his off and it was put on the body. Kennedy was buried in the tie.”
Williams also sang at RFK’s funeral. The song he chose was The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a Kennedy favorite.
As Williams finally crosses that river, we wish him save and happy passage.