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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Singer Clooney dies, 74

June 30, 2002

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— Rosemary Clooney, the mellow-voiced singer who costarred with Bing Crosby in "White Christmas" and staged a dramatic comeback after her career was nearly destroyed by drugs and alcohol, has died. She was 74.

Clooney died shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday at her Beverly Hills home surrounded by her family, her publicist said. She had been hospitalized earlier this month after suffering a recurrence of lung cancer.

Clooney soared to fame with her 1951 record of "Come on-a My House," and became a star in television and films. Her career was sidelined by her marriage to Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer and the births of their five children. The pair divorced, and her attempts to return to performing were sabotaged by her erratic behavior.

Having undergone a series of emotional upsets, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the blond singer had a breakdown during a 1968 engagement in Reno.

She walked off the stage in a rage without finishing her act. As she recalled in her 1977 autobiography, "This for Remembrance," she "fumed" in her dressing room. She wrote:

"Nobody could approach me. I was like a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Nobody could tell whether it was a dud or the real thing, because one minute I could be completely sweet and kind, the next, a raving monster."

She underwent harrowing confinement in a psychotic ward, then began rebuilding her life, gradually resuming her career and reaching new heights as a singer.

Born in Maysville, Ky., on May 23, 1928, Rosemary Clooney started singing with her younger sister, Betty, on WLW radio in Cincinnati in 1945. Their salary: $20 each.

Bandleader Tony Pastor heard the girls when he was touring Ohio and hired them. "The Clooney Sisters" made their debut with the band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1947.

Two years later, Betty tired of barnstorming with the Pastor band and returned to Cincinnati. Rosemary also decided it was time for a change. She headed for New York.

Clooney 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 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, 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 her first royalty check amounted to $130,000. She catapulted to stardom. In 1952 she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures.

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