Andy Williams, the "Moon River" crooner and Emmy-winning TV variety show host, died Tuesday at his home in Branson, Mo. He was 84.
Williams, best known for ballads such as the theme from "Love Story" and "Call Me Irresponsible," had been battling bladder cancer for a year, according to his publicist, Paul Shefrin.
The native of Wall Lake, Iowa, had 18 gold and three platinum albums in his career, as well as the No. 1 single "Butterfly" in 1957, making a name for himself as part of the Williams Brothers Quartet and as a solo singer with a smooth, easygoing delivery.
He struggled initially, being so broke at one point that he resorted to eating food intended for his two dogs. "I had no money for food, so I ate it," he recalled in 2001, "and it actually was damned good."
It was television that took Williams' career to the next level -- first, as a regular on "The Tonight Show" with Steve Allen, and eventually as the host of his own program, "The Andy Williams Show," on NBC starting in 1962. Williams' performance of "Moon River," the theme from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," during the Oscars ceremony in 1962 became one of the most important moments of his career.
"I've never released it as a single, but it has become my signature tune," Williams wrote in his book "Moon River and Me: A Memoir." "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!' "
Even after the British Invasion and rock and roll had pushed Williams' music from the radio, the TV show, which ran for nine years, and his televised Christmas specials kept him in the public eye. It was on the show that Williams introduced the world to the original four singing Osmond Brothers of Utah.
Williams said his contract with Columbia in 1963 -- based on the huge successes of "Moon River" and "The Days of Wine and Roses" after he sang them on the Oscars -- was the biggest recording contract in history at the time.
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"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 told The Associated Press. "My trouble is, I'm not constructed temperamentally along those lines."
His temperament, though, was one of the things that kept his fans loyal to him for decades. Williams recalled in his memoir that astronaut John Glenn told him how he played Williams' music to prepare for missions at Cape Canaveral. "The other astronauts and I played 'Moon River' so often in our rest area that we damn near wore it out," Glenn told Williams.
When his ex-wife, former Las Vegas showgirl Claudine Longet, shot and killed her lover, skiing champion Spider Sabich, in 1976, Williams stood by her when she said it was an accident, testifying on her behalf and escorting her to the courthouse. She was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In 1992, he transformed the entertainment hotbed of Branson by opening the $13-million Andy Williams Moon River Theater and performing two shows a night, six days a week, nine months of the year. He only began scaling back his schedule to one show a night in recent years.
"We've lost a very special man today," said singer Tony Orlando. "He personified to me, for the country, a style of grace, dignity and class with everything he did . . . He had an ability to make everything seem balanced and perfect, and, you know, we've lost a great American treasure."
The Recording Academy said that Williams' smooth voice will be missed. "The entertainment industry has lost a giant piece of its living history today," the Grammy group said. "But Williams' legacy will forever be enshrined in the annals of music and television."
Williams is survived by his wife, Debbie, and his children, Robert, Noelle and Christian.
With The Associated Press