'Moon River' crooner Andy Williams dies at age of 84


FOR ALL of his relaxed singing style and cardigan-wearing habit, Andy Williams was in his own way a musical rebel.

The singer, who died yesterday of bladder cancer aged 84, was a nightclub crooner made good. He never compromised his approach even when jazz, swing and rock’n’roll became more popular and profitable genres.

While others jumped on the bandwagon or “went with the times”, Williams – who had a pitch-perfect baritone voice – remained “old-fashioned” and in so doing provided a range of timeless classics. His renditions of Moon River (from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Solitaire and Can’t Get Used To Losing You remain perennial favourites.

He was one of those artists who could be immediately identified on first listen because of his almost laconic singing style.

“I never tried to sing like anybody else,” he once said. “Fortunately I didn’t sound like anybody else. It just happened. I was very lucky that I had a voice that sounded different to almost anybody else’s and was so recognisable.”

His career received an unlikely boost towards the end of the 1990s when easy listening/lounge music became popular among younger listeners and his versions of Music To Watch Girls By and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You re-entered the singles charts.

Williams began singing at the age of eight in a vocal quartet with his three older brothers before moving to Hollywood as a teenager to work as a back-up singer. He honed his craft in New York nightclubs were he developed his distinctive relaxed, late-night style but it was the burgeoning TV industry that made his career.

In 1954 he became the in-house singer for a new chat show called The Tonight Show (just before Johnny Carson became host) and the exposure led to his first record deal.

Early on in his recording career he was pressurised to sound more like Elvis Presley and he did try to vary the tempo and delivery of his vocal, but it did not work for him so he soon reverted to his smooth baritone delivery.

For most of the 1960s he had his own television show where he would introduce guest stars, participate in gentle comedy sketches and showcase new talent. He was the first man to give The Osmonds their big TV break after a tip-off from his father who had seen them perform.

“When the singer-songwriters came along, that’s when everything changed,” he said, referring to the rise of acts such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan.

He surprised many of his fans by admitting to taking LSD after his first marriage broke down in 1970. It had been recommended to him as an unconventional treatment to deal with his marriage break-up. “It was interesting,” he recalled. “Some of the trips were good, some bad. They guide you through it and suggest colours etc.”

Since the 1990s he ran the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri, performing there up to 12 times a week at times.

Although politically a Republican, he was a close friend of Robert Kennedy and sang The Battle Hymn Of The Republic at his funeral – “the hardest thing I ever had to do”. He was not a fan of President Barack Obama though, once accusing him of “following Marxist theory” and “wanting the country to fail”.

Last year he announced from the stage of his theatre that he had bladder cancer. A host of singing stars have paid tribute to his remarkable singing career.