Andy Williams, the buttery-voiced crooner and television actor, has died of bladder cancer at the age of 84. Singing in the ballad style of decades long past, his songs recall a more pensive, sensual era in music. His effortless baritone and relaxed phrasing earned him praise and awards throughout his career. Listen to some of Williams’ highlight songs here via Spotify.
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Above all, he was known for one song: “Moon River,” composed by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the 1961 Oscar-winning film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Though “Moon River” was never released as a single, Williams had plenty of other hits — 45 of his songs made the Billboard Hot 100.
“Moon River” was originally sung by Audrey Hepburn in the movie and later covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Killers, but it was Williams’ rendition at the 1962 Academy Awards — where it won the Oscar for Best Original Song — that solidified it as his de facto tune.
Williams notched 18 gold and three platinum records over the course of a 42-album, 50-year recording career. But his awards – and his easy, tempered personality – extended beyond the recording studio. He starred on The Andy Williams Show, which aired between 1957 and 1971, alternating between crooning his top tunes and hosting celebrity guests. His annual Christmas special was watched by some of TV’s biggest audiences, and Williams’ name has become often associated with cheerful holiday music:
He’s perhaps best known for the theme songs from feature films, including “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story”, made famous in the 1970 film Love Story. Other major hits include “Butterfly” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”
His song “Music to Watch Girls By” was a minor hit in 1967, reaching #34 on the music charts. Andy Williams would be introduced to an entirely new audience in 1999 when the song was used in a Fiat car advertisement in the United Kingdom.
He moved to Branson, Mo., in 1992 to begin his quasi-retirement and take up a spot at the center of the small town’s burgeoning nightlife culture. It was on the stage of his theater there — named the Moon River Theater after his most famous tune — that he announced in 2011 that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. He confidently told the crowd he intended to survive it, continuing to perform as usual at the theater, marking his 75th year in showbiz this year.