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Andy Williams remembered for 'Moon River,' TV shows

The singer and entertainer who helped to launch the career of the Osmond Brothers and hosted annual holiday television specials passed away Tuesday.

By Bob Thomas and Jim SalterAssociated Press / September 26, 2012

This file photo shows Andy Williams arriving at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute in Los Angeles.

Chris Pizzello/AP/File

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St. Louis

With a string of gold albums, a hit TV series and the signature "Moon River," Andy Williams was a voice of the 1960s, although not the '60s we usually hear about.

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"The old cliche says that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't there," the singer once recalled. "Well, I was there all right, but my memory of them is blurred — not by any drugs I took but by the relentless pace of the schedule I set myself."

Williams' plaintive tenor, boyish features and wholesome, middle-America appeal helped him outlast many of the rock stars who had displaced him and such fellow crooners as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He remained on the charts into the 1970s, hosting hugely popular Christmas TV specials, and continued to perform in his 80s at the Moon River Theatre he built in Branson, Mo.

Williams died Tuesday night at his home in Branson following a yearlong illness, his Los Angeles-based publicist, Paul Shefrin, said Wednesday.

He became a major star the same year as Elvis Presley, 1956, with the Sinatra-like swing "Canadian Sunset," and for a time he was pushed into such Presley imitations as "Lips of Wine" and the No. 1 smash "Butterfly."

But he mostly stuck to what he called his "natural style," and kept it up throughout his career. In 1970, when even Sinatra had given up and (temporarily) retired, Williams was in the top 10 with the theme from "Love Story," the Oscar-winning tearjerker. He had 18 gold records and three platinum, was nominated for five Grammy awards and hosted the Grammy ceremonies for several years.

Movie songs became a specialty, from "Love Story" and "Days of Wine and Roses" to "Moon River." The longing Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini ballad was his most famous song, even though he never released it as a single because his record company feared such lines as "my huckleberry friend" were too confusing and old-fashioned for teens.

The song was first performed by Audrey Hepburn in the beloved 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but Mancini thought "Moon River" ideal for Williams, who recorded it in "pretty much one take" and also sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards. Although "Moon River" was covered by countless artists and became a hit single for Jerry Butler, Williams made the song his personal brand. In fact, he insisted on it.

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