Prolific performer and last of the great crooners
ANDY WILLIAMS:Through the popularity of his television show and his mellifluous tenor voice, Andy Williams, who has died aged 84 after suffering from bladder cancer, was one of the best-loved figures in American popular culture.
In a career that spanned eight decades, he sold more than 100 million albums. Ronald Reagan described Williams's voice as a "national treasure".
The Andy Williams Show was also a favourite on British television and he had numerous UK hits in the 1960s and 70s. Among the biggest were Can't Get Used to Losing You (1963), Can't Help Falling in Love (1970) and Where Do I Begin (1971), the theme from the 1970 film Love Story.
Williams's popularity in Britain and Ireland was revived in 1998 when his 30-year-old hit Can't Take My Eyes Off You was used in a commercial for Peugeot cars. Soon, a Fiat advertisement revived Music to Watch Girls By, and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (from one of his eight Christmas albums) was chosen for a Marks & Spencer Christmas campaign in 2002. He even appeared on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 to sing Moon River.
Williams grew up in Wall Lake, Iowa, the second youngest of six children, to Jay and Florence Williams. His father, a railway worker, arranged for Andy and his three elder brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, to be the choir at the town's Presbyterian church. The quality of their harmonising inspired Jay to train the quartet for a professional career, beginning with performances at weddings and socials. His ambition for the boys led the family to move to Des Moines in 1936 to seek a regular radio show. There, his father's perfectionism hardened into an obsession: Andy was to claim that his self-confidence was deeply dented by Jay's edict that "you have to practise harder because you're not as good as others out there".
The Williams Brothers were eventually awarded their own 15-minute show on a station where Reagan was a sports reporter. But the family were still not well off, and when the youngest child died of spinal meningitis, the only way the family could pay the funeral costs was for the brothers to sing hymns at the funeral parlour after school for several months.
There were further moves to Chicago and Cincinnati so that the Williams Brothers could perform on more prestigious radio stations, and in 1944 the family uprooted again to Los Angeles. There, Jay Williams, by now his sons' full-time manager, negotiated a studio contract with MGM, which gave the quartet cameo roles in several B movies. He also persuaded Bing Crosby to employ them as backing singers on his hit record Swinging on a Star.
The group broke up as each brother was called up for second World War service - the 17-year-old Andy was briefly in the merchant navy - and did not reform until 1947. They next performed as a cabaret act, appearing in Las Vegas and the Cafe de Paris in London before splitting up in 1953. The actor and choreographer Kay Thompson then launched Andy on a solo career, which ignited when he landed a job as resident vocalist on Steve Allen's late night television show on NBC (1954-56).
In 1956 he signed a recording contract with Cadence, and the following year had a No 1 hit in the US and Britain with Butterfly. Although Williams studied Elvis Presley's recordings, he avoided rock'n'roll and had four more top 10 hits with ballads. In 1961 CBS offered him a lucrative record deal.