Andy Williams, Crooner of ‘Moon River,’ Dies at 84

September 26th, 2012

Andy Williams, the affable, boyishly handsome crooner who defined both easy listening and wholesome, easygoing charm for many American pop music fans in the 1960s, most notably with his signature song, “Moon River,” died on Tuesday night at his home in Branson, Mo. He was 84 and also had a home in La Quinta, Calif.

The cause was cancer, his publicist, Paul Shefrin, said. Mr. Williams, who had continued to perform until last year, announced in November that he had bladder cancer.

“Moon River” was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and Audrey Hepburn introduced it in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but it was Mr. Williams who made the song indisputably his own when he sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony and titled a subsequent album after it. When he built a theater in Branson, he named it the Andy Williams Moon River Theater.

“Moon River” became the theme song for his musical-variety television series “The Andy Williams Show,” which, along with his family-oriented Christmas TV specials, made him a household name.

“The Andy Williams Show” ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971 and won three Emmy Awards for outstanding variety series. But its run also coincided with the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, and with a lineup of well-scrubbed acts like the Osmond Brothers (whom Mr. Williams introduced to national television) and established performers like Judy Garland and Bobby Darin, the show, at least to many members of a younger, more rebellious generation, was hopelessly square — the sort of entertainment their parents would watch.

Despite that image, “The Andy Williams Show” was not oblivious to the cultural moment. Its guests also included rising rock acts like Elton John and the Mamas and the Papas, and its offbeat comedy skits, featuring characters like the relentless Cookie Bear and the Walking Suitcase, predated similar absurdism on David Letterman’s and Conan O’Brien’s talk shows by decades.

Mr. Williams’s Christmas specials, on the other hand, were entirely anodyne and decidedly homey, featuring carols and crew-neck sweaters, sleigh bells and fake snow, and a stage filled with family members, including his wife, the telegenic French chanteuse Claudine Longet, and their three children. The Osmonds were regular guests, as were his older brothers, Bob, Don and Dick, who with Mr. Williams had formed the Williams Brothers, the singing act in which he got his start in show business.

Although Mr. Williams’s fame came from television, movie themes were among his best-known recordings, including those from “Love Story,” “Charade,” “The Way We Were” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” Decades after he had stopped recording regularly, his old hits continued to turn up on movie soundtracks: “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in “Bad Santa,” for instance, and his version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in “Bridget Jones’s Dairy.”

Mr. Williams earned 18 gold and three platinum albums and was nominated for Grammy Awards five times, but he never had a gold single. (His version of “Moon River” was not released as a single, although versions by Mr. Mancini and Jerry Butler reached the Top 20.) His biggest hit single — and his only No. 1 — was “Butterfly,” an uncharacteristically rocklike 1957 number in which he was instructed to imitate Elvis Presley.

His more mellow hits included “Canadian Sunset,” “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” “Lonely Street,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Are You Sincere?” He continued to record into the 1970s.

Mr. Williams was close friends with Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at Kennedy’s funeral in 1968, but he considered himself a Republican. By 2009 he had become an outspoken one. “Obama is following Marxist theory,” he told The Radio Times, a British magazine. “He’s taken over the banks and the car industry. He wants the country to fail.”

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