Fans Recall Singer Rosemary Clooney
Sun Jun 30, 4:57 PM ET
By BOB THOMAS, Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Fans, family members and fellow entertainers remembered singer Rosemary Clooney on Sunday for her seemingly effortless singing style, her warm humor and her triumphant comeback from emotional problems and drug abuse.
The mellow-voiced singer who co-starred with Bing Crosby in "White Christmas" died Saturday evening at the age of 74 at her Beverly Hills home, with family members at her side. She had been hospitalized earlier in the month for a recurrence of lung cancer.
"Her music was an extraordinary extension of this joyful soul," her longtime friend, singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, told the Los Angeles Times. "She was an earth mother, a heart person, and that quality came through in her music."
Clooney's younger brother, Nick Clooney, an entertainer and television reporter in Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he spoke with her Thursday and she had talked enthusiastically about returning to her hometown of Maysville, Ky., for the fourth annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival in September.
"She was very feisty," Nick Clooney said. His son is actor George Clooney.
Flowers were placed on her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony Sunday. Notices from fans appeared on Web sites devoted to the singer.
John Von Ohlen, who had played drums in Clooney's bad since 1982, said she was a consummate professional.
"She was the best to work with. When I started in '82, she was in her best form. Every time I played with her, the music was top notch. You did a show with her and you were all the way there," Von Ohlen told The Enquirer.
Clooney started singing with her younger sister, Betty, on WLW radio in Cincinnati in 1945.
Bandleader Tony Pastor heard the girls when he was touring Ohio and hired them, and "The Clooney Sisters" made their debut with the band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1947.
Two years later, Betty tired of the life and returned to Cincinnati, and Rosemary headed for New York, where she played a few dates on radio and early television shows and recorded for Columbia. One day in 1951, Mitch Miller, the mentor of Columbia Records, offered her "Come on-a My House," by Armenian-American author William Saroyan.
"I really hated that song. I hated the whole idea, and my first impression was, what a cheap way to get people's attention," she later wrote in her memoirs.
When she refused to record the song, Miller threatened to fire her. She agreed, using an Italian accent instead of Armenian "because it was the only kind of accent I knew."
The song became a huge hit and catapulted Clooney to stardom.
She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1952 and was hailed as "the next Betty Hutton." Paramount starred her in four musicals, but musicals were going out of style, and her film career was soon over.
Then, personal matters slowed her career. In 1953 she married Jose Ferrer, the Puerto Rico-born, Academy Award-winning actor and director. It was the first marriage for Clooney, 25, the third for Ferrer, 41. Their first son, Miguel, was born in 1955, followed in rapid succession by Maria, Gabriel, Monsita and Rafael.
Clooney had also starred in two TV variety series, and the difficulty of maintaining a career and a home for her husband and young children began to trouble her.
Ferrer's womanizing caused her to divorce him in 1961. After a three-year reconciliation, they divorced for the final time in 1967.
A two-year liaison with a young drummer ended when he walked out on her. She was devastated by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., whom she had supported, and was in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when her friend, Robert F. Kennedy, was shot.
For years she had taken pills to assuage personal grief and maintain her life as a singing star and a single mother. Overeating caused her to gain 60 pounds. Her children and associates became alarmed at her irrational behavior.
"My brink of despair was rushing up to meet me like the end of a runway for a plane lumbering in vain to get off the ground," she wrote in her autobiography.
After four years of therapy, Clooney return to performing in 1972 at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. For the first time in years, she found joy in entertaining an audience.
"Then at Christmas in 1975 Bing called me," she said in a 1985 Associated Press interview. "He said he was going to do a concert at the Los Angeles Music Center. Would I appear with him?"
She agreed, thinking it would be a one-time benefit. But the pair continued on to Chicago, New York and London. The Clooney career was reborn. She won a new record contract, and singing dates poured in.
In 1996, Clooney married Dante DiPaolo, a Hollywood dancer she had dated before meeting Ferrer.
In addition to her husband and five children, Clooney is survived by her brother; a sister, Gail Clooney Darley; and 10 grandchildren.
Services were to be held in Beverly Hills and
Kentucky; details were pending. Clooney was expected to be buried at
St. Patrick's cemetery in Maysville.