One night in 1961, Andy Williams heard a ballad that Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini had written to be performed by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The singer loved the song, but his record label wouldn’t release it as a single, fretting that homespun phrases like “my huckleberry friend” would baffle the kids. So Williams moved to Columbia Records and put the number on a 1962 album, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes. The song won an Oscar, and the American midcentury’s most amiable pop baritone, who died of bladder cancer Sept. 25 at 84 at his Branson, Mo., home, had a lifelong signature tune.
Howard Andrew Williams began singing in public with his three older brothers in the Williams Brothers quartet, which backed Bing Crosby on the Oscar-winning “Swinging on a Star.” Andy went solo in 1953, becoming the house singer for Steve Allen on The Tonight Show. His raft of early hits included “Canadian Sunset,” “Butterfly,” “I Like Your Kind of Love,” “Are You Sincere” and “Lonely Street.” The singer also proved that his pleasant presence, as comfortable as the cashmere sweaters he wore, was equally suitable for TV. The Andy Williams Show charmed and soothed viewers from 1962 to 1971 and introduced them to another clean-cut sibling singing group, the Osmonds.
In 2002 his version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” made the British Top 25. And for the past 20 years, Williams performed at his own 2,054-seat theater on the Strip in Branson, Mo., crooning to his fans and their grandchildren and reminding lovers of classic pop that mellow could be marvelous.
This text originally appeared in the Oct. 08, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
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