Andy Williams – Moon River and Me
Ronald Reagan once proclaimed Andy Williams’ voice a “national treasure”. His career was in full bloom when I was reaching my late teens and early twenties. One of my best friends and I used to listen to his albums by the hour together, singing along (badly).
Andy died this year in September of complications from bladder cancer, at age 84 – still going strong in the entertainment industry in Branson Missouri.
Just 3 years ago, he completed his memoir – titled “Andy Williams – Moon River and Me”, saying as the last sentence, “The last chapter of my life is still to come”.
I had wanted to see Andy Williams live at his Christmas show in Branson for the past 6 years, but just hadn’t made the time. Andy was heavily involved in planning for the show for 2012 and in fact was intending to perform in it as well. Although too late to actually get to see him sing, I went this year to the show, because it was the last one he had a hand in planning.
After the show, I became curious about his life and found this autobiography at the library. Here are a few highlights from the book.
Andy was born December 3, 1927 and his early years were during the great depression and he has quite distinct memories of breathing in the dust during the dust bowl days. He and his 4 older brothers and younger sister lived in a small town about 50 miles northwest of Des Moines Iowa.
They weren’t rich, Mom stayed home and Dad worked 2 to 3 jobs to support the family – part time insurance salesman and full time mail clerk for the railroad were a couple of his jobs. Andy talks about living through a tornado, having pigs, cows and chickens – with their corresponding chores.
His Dad was responsible for pushing his 4 boys into becoming a singing group. It started when he volunteered them to sing as the church choir in the local Presbyterian church. The act was called the William’s brothers and they worked hard at practicing and performing until they made it to radio performances in Des Moines and finally to a film contract with MGM studios in California.
The brother’s act broke up when the other three went off, one by one to pursue their own dreams, but Andy kept on singing. After the Williams’ act closed and he was on his own, he had to start all over and was very poor, once even eating dog food because he was lacking anything else to eat. He had been trying to make it on his own, touring smaller towns and singing in clubs for two years. In 1954, staying at a filthy, roach infested motel with no money for food, Andy had an epiphany:
“If I stayed on the road, touring ever-smaller clubs in ever-more obscure and out-of-the-way places, I was on a one-way road to oblivion. I decided I had nothing to lose by rolling the die.”
He changed his singing style and act, borrowed $100 from his brother for a ticket to New York and started his uphill career climb.
His Dad continued to be supportive, even trying to learn about money and investing to help Andy and the Williams children with managing their new found productivity.
In the book, Andy details the many famous people he knew and with whom he worked. John Glen, Robert & Ethel Kennedy, Bing Crosby, Peter Paul and Mary, the Beatles and many others touched his life. He also noted the folks who helped him along the way – his father, Kay Thompson.
His career ranged from live performances to radio shows to his own long running TV show – on which the Williams family performed each year at Christmas time. He toured all across the nation and throughout the world.
His book is sometimes brutally honest, as when he speaks of the guilt and blame he placed on himself for not being a more attentive husband and father. He fesses up that his good boy next door persona was not always an accurate depiction of his life – he explains why he took LSD (under a doctor’s supervision) and details his romance with a girl named Laurie after his divorce from Claudine – the mother of his three children.
At 63 years, Williams decided to roll the dice once more. After marrying ‘the love of my life’, he convinced her to move to Branson, MO so he could build a theater and perform there, instead of being on tour so much. He sold three of his houses and basically put most of his personal fortune into building the Moon River Theater on Hwy 76 in Branson.
He skied, played tennis, danced and sang. Andy enjoyed life.
“If I’m remembered at all, I hope to be thought of as a good man who brought much job to many people, but above all I want to be remembered for my music.”
So, from Andy and I to you – Happy Holidays!
Here is the song by him: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”