Sunday, June 30, 2002 - CINCINNATI ENQUIRIER

Singing legend Rosemary Clooney dies


Maysville native enjoyed late comeback

The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Associated Press

  Tristate entertainment icon Rosemary Clooney, the mellow-voiced singer from Maysville who became the top female vocalist of the '50s and later staged a dramatic career comeback, has died at age 74.

  Her younger brother, Cincinnati entertainer Nick Clooney, said she died Saturday evening at her Beverly Hills home surrounded by her family and Nick's son, actor George Clooney. She had been hospitalized earlier this month after suffering a recurrence of lung cancer.


  Read more about Rosemary Clooney's fabulous career in The Enquirer's Special Tribute, published Feb. 24, 2002, in recognition of her Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards.

  Her failing health had prevented her from coming to Cincinnati a week earlier for a gala celebration of Nick's 50th anniversary in show business.

  “Rosemary had pushed and planned to come but couldn't,” Mr. Clooney said early this morning.

  He said he talked to his sister Thursday and she had talked enthusiastically about returning to Maysville for this September's fourth annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival.

  “I ... had a very good conversation with her. She was very feisty.”

  Mr. Clooney said there would be a Los Angeles service, but that burial would be in St. Patrick's cemetery in Maysville.

  “She told me and every one of her family that she wanted a funeral Mass in St. Patrick's Church,” Mr. Clooney said.

  Mary Ellen Tanner, a local singer who said Ms. Clooney had been a mentor to her, said: “I'm just stunned. I always felt like she was my next-door neighbor. It's the end of an era for music.”

  John Von Ohlen, a Cincinnati musician who was drummer for Ms. Clooney since 1982, said: “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.”

  Her death came four months after the recording industry gave her its highest honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award. It was the singer's first Grammy in a 56-year career that began in 1945 in Cincinnati, when the blond Maysville, Ky., teenager and her younger sister, Betty, began singing on WLW radio.

  Ms. Clooney soared to fame in 1951 with “Come on-a My House,” and became a TV and film star.

  After a series of emotional upsets, she had a breakdown during a 1968 engagement in Reno.

  In the late '70s, she re-invented herself — coming back from a failed marriage, a love affair and drug dependency. Concord Records, a jazz label, gave her a second chance.

  In July 2000, with 10,000 in the Riverbend audience and several million TV viewers watching live, Ms. Clooney blew a kiss to her hometown fans and exclaimed, “It's good to be home, let me tell you.”

  The person and the singer became inseparable. Shortly after Ms. Clooney recovered from nearly dying of viral meningitis in 1998, the Enquirer asked her how she would like to be remembered.

  She was uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. Then she answered, “As a hard-working singer. And a good mother.”

  Born in Maysville on May 23, 1928, Ms. Clooney started singing with Betty on WLW in 1945. Their salary: $20 each.

  Bandleader Tony Pastor heard them while touring Ohio. “The Clooney Sisters” made their debut with his band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1947.

  Two years later, Betty returned to Cincinnati. Rosemary headed for New York.

  One day in 1951, Mitch Miller, mentor of Columbia Records, offered her “Come on-a My House.”

  “I think it was a musically snobbish time in my life,” she wrote in her memoirs. “I really hated that song. I hated the whole idea, and my first impression was, what a cheap way to get people's attention.”

  When she refused to record the song, Mr. Miller threatened to fire her.

  The song became a huge hit, and her first royalty check amounted to $130,000. She catapulted to stardom.

  In 1952 she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures to star in four musicals: The Stars Are Singing, Here Come the Girls, with Bob Hope, a Western spoof Red Garters, and White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

  Musicals were going out of style, and after a cameo in Deep in My Heart at MGM, her film career was over.

  In 1953, she married Mr. Ferrer, the Puerto Rico-born actor and director whose brilliant stage career had been followed by success in films. He received an Academy Award as best actor in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950.

  It was the first marriage for Ms. Clooney, 25, the third for Mr. Ferrer, 41. Their first son, Miguel, was born in 1955. He was followed by Maria, 1956; Gabriel, 1957; Monsita, 1958; Rafael, 1960.

  Ms. Clooney had also starred in two TV variety series, and the conflict of maintaining a career and a home for her husband and young children began to trouble her. Mr. Ferrer's womanizing caused her to divorce him in 1961. After a three-year reconciliation, they divorced for the final time in 1967.

  More misfortune befell the singer. A two-year liaison with a young drummer ended when he walked out on her. She was devastated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, and was present with two of her children in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert Kennedy was shot.

  She had taken pills for years to cope, and overeating had caused her to gain 60 pounds.

  Mr. Miguel recalled in a 1976 interview that his mother became “wild, uncontrollable.”

  In her autobiography, she wrote, “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 detailed her transfer to a double-locked room (“I was a violent case in a violent ward”) in St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

  Her book was adapted for a 1982 TV movie, Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story, with Sondra Locke portraying her.

  After four years of therapy, she returned to performing in 1972 at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens.

  “Then at Christmas in 1975 Bing called me,” she said in a 1985 interview. “He said he was going to do a concert at the Los Angeles Music Center. Would I appear with him?”

  The Clooney career was reborn.

  In 1995, she received an Emmy Award nomination for guest actress in a drama series for her role on ER with her nephew.

  In 1996, Ms. Clooney married Hollywood dancer Dante DiPaolo. Besides her five children, she is also survived by a brother, sister and 10 grandchildren.