"Rosemary Clooney, 74, Legendary Warm-Voiced Singer of Jazz and Pop Hits, Dies"

by Richard Severo - New York Times, June 30, 2002

Rosemary Clooney, whose warm, radiant voice placed her in the first rank of American popular singers for more than half a century, died last night at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 74.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, according to her spokeswoman, Linda Dozoretz.

Ms. Clooney did not dig as deeply into the emotional content of a song as Frank Sinatra did; she never tried to emulate the sound and delivery of an instrument as Mel Tormé seemed to do so easily; she did not burst into the scat choruses favored by Ella Fitzgerald. But she sang with so much assuredness, simplicity and honesty that these elements became her trademark and endeared her to audiences and critics alike.

In recent years Ms. Clooney had been appearing in the best cabarets and concert stages singing pop-jazz standards that earned her new audiences and renewed respect. Reviewing a performance at Michael's Pub in Manhattan, Stephen Holden of The New York Times said of her: "Her special strength is an ability to infuse everything she touches with warmth, intelligence and a subtly swinging energy that make her interpretations of standards models of balance and clarity. Her emotional perspective is dry-eyed and perceptive. "

Although she did her best work singing standards with a fidelity to their composers, Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, her beginnings were decidedly in a genre not nearly so distinguished. She became one of America's best-known popular singers in 1951 with a novelty called "Come-on-a-My House," and followed that with other novelties like "Botcha-Me," "Mambo Italiano," and "This Old House." songs that her audiences always wanted to hear.

Some fans even occasionally asked her to sing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," a novelty that belonged to Patti Page. "They probably figure if it's a bad song I must have done it," she once said.

But even then Ms. Clooney recorded ballads like "Tenderly" and "Hey There" with such simplicity and beauty that they also became songs indelibly associated with her. Ms. Clooney with a good ballad was always approachable and intimate.

Her early career reached a height in 1954 when she appeared opposite Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing Irving Berlin songs in the hit musical "White Christmas." But her good looks and cheery disposition masked a life with more than its share of pain.

She survived a disastrous marriage to the actor Jose Ferrer; she was scarred by the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy, which she witnessed first hand; she abused drugs and had affairs that disappointed and wounded her; she had a childhood of uncertainty with an affably alcoholic father and a mother who eventually deserted the family.

And yet Ms. Clooney never completely lost her admiration for Mr. Ferrer, the father of her five children, whom she married and divorced twice, not even after she learned of his womanizing during their marriage that led her to conclude that he was breaking her heart "in small increments." And she always made a place in her home for the parents who had not done the same for her when she was a child.

Rosemary Clooney was born May 23, 1928, in Maysville, Ky., a small town on the Ohio River southeast of Cincinnati. She was one of five children born to Andrew and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney. Mr. Clooney was a house painter who drank so much and so often that his own father, a jeweler who served several terms as mayor of Maysville, had his son jailed for public drunkenness.

Rosemary and her sister Betty began to sing publicly, at first for political rallies for her grandfather, who was mayor of Maysville, later at amateur contests throughout northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

When Rosemary was in high school and Betty was in junior high, radio station WLW in Cincinnati conducted a talent contest. The sisters won and for a time were heard seven nights a week, earning $20 each.

The sisters began to sing with Barney Rapp's big band, which performed around Cincinnati. An agent for Tony Pastor heard them and for the next three years the Clooney Sisters became vocalists for the Pastor big band.

In 1946, Rosemary Clooney made her first solo recording, "I'm Sorry I Didn't Say I'm Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night," which attracted attention because she sang it in a whisper that disk jockeys all around the country speculated was was going to be the new style. In reality, she had been so petrified when she stood before the microphone that she could not sing the song in full voice as she had intended.

By 1947, she was gaining notice. In 1948, Betty Clooney quit the Pastor band, but Rosemary stayed with him another year before she left as well, hopeful of success because she had signed a contract with Columbia Records. The initial deal was that she would be paid $50 a recording.

In 1950 she attracted favorable attention with an appearance on the "Songs For Sale" television show and with her recording of "Beautiful Brown Eyes," her first real hit for Columbia. She started to appear regularly on television.

But her first megahit came the next year, when Mitch Miller, the artist and repertory man at Columbia, persuaded her to sing "Come On-a My House." From the instant that Ms. Clooney heard it she thought it was dreadful and told Mr. Miller she would not sing it but He insisted. The recording became a runaway best seller and Ms. Clooney became a star.

The success emboldened Mr. Miller to assign her to other novelty songs, most notably "Botcha Me" and "Mambo Italiano" that also became hits. When she made her screen debut in "The Stars Are Singing," she was trumpeted as "the next Betty Hutton" and she made the cover of Time magazine in 1953 with her bouncier image.

"I always wanted to sing sad ballads, but I didn't get many opportunities," Ms. Clooney once told Stephen Holden of The Times. "If I found something I wanted to do, I had to get permission. At the same time, you can't quarrel with success. If it hadn't been for 'Come on-a My House,' I probably wouldn't be here now."

Ms. Clooney remained busy and successful for the rest of the 1950's. She married Mr. Ferrer in 1953 and made more movies, including "White Christmas" in 1954 with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen.

But in the early 1960's she and Mr. Ferrer became estranged, she had an affair with the arranger Nelson Riddle, and she slowly became addicted to sleeping pills. Her work habits became erratic and she got tagged as being undependable. She found it difficult to find work. Her singing deteriorated.

By the end of the decade, she was "dead behind the eyes," she recalled in her 1977 memoir, "This For Remembrance." Her divorce from Mr. Ferrer became final in 1967.

In 1968, she supported the presidential aspirations of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and was standing near him when he was shot to death in Los Angeles.

Ms. Clooney, recalling the day in her memoir, said she was convinced that he hadn't died, that it was somehow all a big hoax.

Her self-destructive rampage continued until she spent a month in the psychiatric ward of Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. And when she emerged, She was short of money and supported herself by singing for anyone who would pay her. Mostly it was weekend work at Holiday Inns.

Her fortunes changed again in 1974 when Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him at a show marking his 50th anniversary in show business. She did well and then made several successful tours with him and also toured with Margaret Whiting, Helen O'Connell and Rose Marie in a show called "4 Girls 4."

She suffered a setback in 1976 when her sister Betty died of an aneurysm but regained control of herself and worked on her memoirs.

In the 1990's, she recorded many songs for the Concord Jazz label and the critics agreed that her voice had gotten better.

She is survived by her children: the actor Miguel Ferrer; Maria, a designer; Gabriel, a painter married to Debby Boone; Monsita Teresa; Rafael, a voice-over actor, and her husband, Dante DiPaolo, a dancer. Other survivors include a nephew, George Clooney, the actor.