BRANSON, Mo. —
Joplin area fans described ageless crooner Andy Williams as a brilliant performer and businessman who made everyone feel at home despite his decades of fame.
Williams, whose voice made “Moon River” an acclaimed classic, died Tuesday night at his Branson home at age 84 after a one-year battle with bladder cancer.
His admirers and crew had hoped to see him perform this season as his 75th year in the entertainment industry was celebrated at the Moon River Theatre he built 20 years ago in Branson.
“I think they kept hoping he would come on stage,” said Carol Parker, a television show host for KSNF-TV in Joplin. She said she thought that she and Williams became friends over years of visits and interviews for her shows.
Parker said she and her late husband, Jack, had a chance meeting with Williams 20 years ago when he was completing the construction of the Branson theater. She said he didn’t know them, but he invited them in to see the theater anyway, gave them a tour and showed them his art collection. Williams was a collector of contemporary art, particularly Andy Warhol works, and displayed some of his collection in his Branson restaurant, the Andy Williams Grill. Williams had some of his mother’s recipes on the menu there.
“He was a genuine person, one of the nicest I ever interviewed in Branson,” Parker said. “He would always take time with you and never rush you. He was always a thrill.”
“He was a very gracious, very kind guy,” said Scott Cragin, an instructor at Missouri Southern State University, in a news release about reaction of those at MSSU who had worked with Williams in a 2010 marketing project.
A dozen marketing students worked on teams to develop marketing plans for either Williams’ theater or his restaurant.
The students researched market size and demand, and topics such as the products sold and the atmosphere at the restaurant, and online versus walk-in sales of the theater tickets. They presented the results of their study in person to Williams.
“He was excited to have the young students working with him and was receptive to what they were trying to tell him,” Cragin said in the news release.
In October 2010, a larger group from Missouri Southern attended a show at the Moon River Theatre.
“It was a really good show,” Stu Dunlop, who also teaches in the Robert W. Plaster School of Business Administration at MSSU, said in the news release. “To the end, he was a consummate entertainer. His show was very professional. His legacy in Branson is that he had one of the first non-country music-based shows that was really successful there. He was definitely ahead of his time in that respect.”
In fact, his decision to quit touring and move to what then was a smaller Branson perplexed fellow entertainers. His decision opened the door for a larger variety of entertainment to launch there.
“They didn’t understand why Andy, who could live anywhere he wanted to live, would choose a rural community in Southwest Missouri,” Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley told The Associated Press. “But he enjoyed bringing people in and saying, ‘Look, here is what I’ve created.’”
“We’ve lost a very special man today,” said singer Tony Orlando, who came to perform in Branson after being persuaded to do so by Williams. “He personified to me, for the country, a style of grace, dignity and class with everything he did. He had an ability to make everything seem balanced and perfect and, you know, we’ve lost a great American treasure.”
Williams not only became a pop music artist, but he also hosted a popular television show and, for years, a Christmas special. He continued the Christmas specials at his Branson theater.
“Christmas wasn’t Christmas if you didn’t see the Andy Williams show,” Parker said.
Williams was part of the soundtrack of the 1960s and ’70s, with easy-listening hits like “Moon River,” the “Love Story” theme and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” from his Christmas TV specials.
Williams became a major star in 1956, the same year as Elvis Presley, with the Sinatra-like swing number “Canadian Sunset.” 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 Frank Sinatra had temporarily retired, Williams was in the top 10 with the theme from “Love Story,” the Oscar-winning tearjerker. He had 18 gold records, three platinum records and five Grammy nominations.
Williams went to Branson in the 1990s after weather and other problems plagued his concert tour and he decided to quit the road.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
The show goes on
AT A WEDNESDAY MATINEE at Andy Williams’ Moon River Theatre in Branson, a performer told the crowd that Williams would have wanted the show to go on, and it did. The first show after his death included a moving video of him performing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
Source: The Associated Press