Andy Williams, the affable, boyishly handsome crooner who defined both easy listening and wholesome, easygoing charm for many American pop music fans in the 1960s, most notably with his signature song, Moon River, died Tuesday night at his home in Branson, Mo. He was 84.
The cause was cancer, his publicist, Paul Shefrin, said. Williams, who had continued to perform until last year, announced in November that he had bladder cancer.
Moon River was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and Audrey Hepburn introduced it in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it was Williams who made the song indisputably his own when he sang it at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony and titled a subsequent album after it.
Moon River became the theme song for his television series The Andy Williams Show, which, along with his family-oriented Christmas specials, made him a household name.
The Andy Williams Show ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971 and won three Emmy Awards. But its run also coincided with the upheavals of the 1960s, and with a lineup of well-scrubbed acts like the Osmond Brothers (whom Williams introduced to national television) and established performers like Judy Garland and Bobby Darin, the show, at least to many members of a younger, more rebellious generation, was hopelessly square.
But its guests also included rising rock acts like Elton John and the Mamas and the Papas, and its offbeat comedy skits, featuring characters like the relentless Cookie Bear and the Walking Suitcase, predated similar absurdism on David Letterman’s and Conan O’Brien’s talk shows.
Williams’ Christmas specials, on the other hand, were entirely anodyne and decidedly homey, featuring carols and crew-neck sweaters, sleigh bells and fake snow, and a stage filled with family members, including his wife, the telegenic French chanteuse Claudine Longet, and their three children.
Although Williams’ fame came from television, movie themes were among his best-known recordings, including those from Love Story, Charade, The Way We Were and Days of Wine and Roses. Decades after he had stopped recording regularly, his old hits continued to turn up on movie soundtracks.
Williams earned 18 gold and three platinum albums and was nominated for Grammy Awards five times. His biggest hit single — and his only No. 1 — was Butterfly, an uncharacteristically rocklike 1957 number in which he was instructed to imitate Elvis Presley. (His version of Moon River was not released as a single.)
His more mellow hits included Canadian Sunset, The Hawaiian Wedding Song, Lonely Street, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, The Shadow of Your Smile and Are You Sincere?
The singer opened the 2,000-seat Andy Williams Moon River Theater in 1992 in Branson. It was the city’s first non-country-music attraction.