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The crooner with a voice like warm chocolate sauce takes his final bow

ANDY Williams, the singer who immortalised 'Moon River' and became one of the richest men in showbusiness, has died.

Williams (84) died at his US home following a year-long battle with bladder cancer.

Williams said in November 2011 that he was diagnosed with cancer but planned to continue performing.

Williams began singing with his brothers as a child, and his easy style and mellow voice led president Ronald Reagan to call him "a national treasure".

Although his version of 'Moon River' made him world famous, it was one among his many hits, including 'Butterfly' and 'Can't Get Used to Losing You'.

He was one of the last great American crooners and had huge hits in the 1960s and 1970s with smooth renditions of such songbook standards as 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and 'Days Of Wine And Roses'; in a career spanning more than half a century he recorded 18 gold albums and hosted his own popular television show.

Although he enjoyed a reputation as the acme of clean-cut American homeliness, and possessed a voice that was compared to warm chocolate sauce, Williams also featured regularly in gossip columns after the failure of his first marriage on account of his remarkable tally of attractive girlfriends.

They ranged from unknown British starlets through to the sister of Evil Knievel and Ethel Kennedy, widow of the assassinated American Senator Robert Kennedy, a close friend. In 1968, Williams had sung at Kennedy's funeral. Such was his notoriety that in 1973, two years after one of his television spectaculars had been aired in Britain, Williams was complaining of being blackballed by the BBC because of his private life.

Big Break

Andy Williams first found fame in Britain in the 1960s, just ahead of the Beatles craze. When he sang Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer's 'Moon River' at the 1962 Oscars -- it was the theme to the Audrey Hepburn film 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and he considered it the greatest love song ever written -- it quickly became his theme song (although he never scored a chart hit with it).

Williams followed up at the following year's Oscars ceremony by winning another award with a second Mancini-Mercer classic, 'Days Of Wine And Roses'.

In Britain he also met with Top 10 success, charting several times with such hits as 'Can't Get Used To Losing You', 'Almost There', 'Home Lovin' Man' and 'Solitaire'.

His was also one of the wealthiest men in showbusiness. Financially astute -- thanks, he said, to his father, who helped him with his investments -- he made $30 million alone from a $250,000 investment in the Phoenix Suns basketball team. On the other hand, he lost about $5 million when the property bubble burst in his adopted home town of Branson, Missouri.

His own publishing company owned the rights of everything Williams wrote for his famous television specials, with one particular seasonal song -- 'The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year' -- becoming what his lawyer called "a cash cow".

Howard Andrew Williams was born on December 3 1927 at Wall Lake, Iowa, the youngest son of a railway postal clerk. His father was also an amateur musician, who formed his four sons into a choir for the local Presbyterian church. They were rated so highly that when Andy was eight the four Williams Brothers made their professional debut on a radio station at Des Moines.

This led to engagements in Chicago, Cincinnati and finally Los Angeles, where the quartet was signed to the MGM film studio. But the brothers were forced to disband when the two eldest were drafted for military service; Andy, who had attended various schools in Illinois and Ohio, completed his education in Los Angeles, graduating in 1947.

When the brothers reformed, they created a nightclub act with the comedienne Kay Thompson, touring America and Europe until 1953, when they split for good.

Striking out on his own proved a lonely and financially precarious experience for Williams; before striking success he endured such hardship that at one point he was sharing tins of pet food with his dog. "It didn't taste that bad when you heated it up, actually," he recalled, "just like meat and gravy."

The following year Williams went to New York to market his first solo record and successfully auditioned for a two-week spot on the 'Steve Allen Tonight' show. In the event, he stayed for two and a half years, winning audiences with his warm voice and disarming smile.

At the same time he signed a record contract and released a string of songs, three of which, 'Canadian Sunset', 'The Hawaiian Wedding Song' and 'The Village of St Bernadette', each sold a million copies.

Further television successes followed, culminating in the summer of 1959 with his own one-hour variety programme 'The Andy Williams Show', for CBS. Thereafter, he concentrated on hour-long television specials, returning to the nightclub circuit with his solo act and releasing albums of easy-listening songs which did well despite the onslaught of rock and roll.

During the 1960s, Williams signed what was then the biggest-ever recording contract, and by 1973 had earned 17 gold albums. His saccharine Christmas specials, which appeared regularly until 1974 and intermittently thereafter, were among the most popular of their kind.

Theatre

In the early 1990s Williams abandoned his touring schedule to open his own theatre at Branson, Missouri: the 2,000-seat Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, where he appeared up to a dozen times a week between September and December. In 1999 his recording of 'Music To Watch Girls By' was a surprise hit in Britain when it climbed to No 9 in the charts after featuring in a Fiat Punto commercial.

The single's success was followed by a sell-out British tour. In 2002 he teamed up with the British actress Denise van Outen in a duet of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You', his solo hit from 1968, which 30 years later was revived to promote another car in Britain, the Peugeot 306.

Williams's homes in Missouri and California featured in Architectural Digest, and he was a noted collector of art, particularly of French Impressionist paintings and antique Navajo blankets.

He enjoyed a clean-cut reputation and was modest about his worldwide success. He said he ignored rock and roll "because I think ballads are more welcome on TV". His one-time singing partner Kay Thompson explained his enduring appeal, saying that "stars like Andy, with a plain niceness about them, are the ones that last".

Andy Williams married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1961, was Claudine Longet, a dancer at the Folies Bergere in Las Vegas with whom he had three children; they had first met when he pulled over to help her at the side of a road in Nevada. A year after their divorce, in 1975, Longet was charged with fatally shooting her boyfriend, Vladimir "Spider" Sabich. In a gesture of support, Williams stood at her side in the subsequent trial. In 1991 he married, secondly, Debbie Haas. His wives and children survive him. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent