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Blue-eyed crooner Andy Williams, famous for his rendition of the Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini classic "Moon River," died Tuesday at his home in Branson, MO., his family announced. Williams, 84, passed away following a year-long battle with bladder cancer.
The singer had just marked his 75th year in showbiz. During his career, Williams amassed 17 gold and three platinum records.
Born Howard Andrew Williams on December 3, 1927, he began his career in his hometown of Wall Lake, Iowa, as part of a singing quartet that included his brothers Bob, Dick and Don. Andy made his professional singing debut at the age of 8 and The Williams Brothers Quartet became regulars on radio station WHO's "Iowa's Barn Dance Show" in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1947 the brothers teamed with comedienne/entertainer Kay Thompson for a nightclub act which toured the United States and London before the group disbanded in 1951. At that time Andy moved to New York to pursue his solo vocal career where he became a regular on Steve Allen's "Tonight Show," a gig that led to his first recording contract with Cadence Records.
Williams had his first top ten hit with "Canadian Sunset." Other hits followed including "Butterfly," "Lonely Street" and "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" for which he received the first of his five Grammy Awards nominations.
Numerous television variety show appearances kept him in the spotlight but it was the changing of record labels in 1962 that elevated his fame to international levels. Almost immediately after signing with Columbia Records - an association that would last 25 years - Williams scored a top ten hit with "Can't Get Used to Losing You."
It was the Oscar winning theme song to the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that would become Williams' theme song and helped push his album "Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes" to the top of the charts.
"When I hear anybody else sing it, it's all I can to do stop myself from shouting at the television screen, 'No! That's my song!'" Williams wrote of the tune in his 2009 memoir, aptly titled "Moon River and Me." His follow up album, "Days of Wine and Roses," spent 16 weeks at number one and remained on the charts for over 100 weeks.
NBC's "Andy Williams Show" debuted in September of 1962 and remained on air until 1971. The variety show won three Emmys and was one of the networks most popular programs. It was from his show that Williams introduced another quartet of harmonious brothers: the original singing Osmonds of Utah. From this show Williams also launched his Christmas specials that often featured members of his family.
His wholesome image was briefly shaken in 1976 when his ex-wife, former Las Vegas showgirl Claudine Longet, shot and killed her lover, an American ski champion named Spider Sabich. Longet maintained it was an accident and spent only one week in jail. Williams stood by her, testifying on her behalf in court and providing support for her children.
Touring followed his television career and his annual Christmas shows became a huge draw wherever they landed across the country.
Williams settled in Branson in 1992. The city was dominated by country music at the time and the crooner embarked on a project to change that by building the $13 million Andy Williams Moon River Theater in the heart of the entertainment district. It was onstage at the theater where he announced he had bladder cancer in November 2011.
Dividing his time between his homes in Branson and Palm Springs, Williams spent his time golfing when not performing at his theater. He told the AP in 2001: "I'll keep going until I get to the point where I can't get out on stage."
Williams is survived by his wife Debbie and his three children.