Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Andy Williams performs at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame ceremony in July 2009.
Andy Williams performs at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame ceremony in July 2009. Larry Busacca/Getty Images
In the 1950s, a young man who had been on the upward track of success was performing alone in the seediest of nightclubs. The quartet he formed with his brothers had broken up, and he sang the wrong kinds of songs for the wrong kinds of audiences. And he was continually stiffed by club owners. At one point, he got so hungry, he ate dog food.
But he became iconic in American popular culture, with more than 20 platinum and gold albums, 20 years in Las Vegas, and a television run that surpassed 10 years. It amounts to seven decades of show business.
Andy Williams' career charts like a history of mid-20th century entertainment. At 82, Williams still tours and performs year-round, often at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Mo.
He has a new memoir, Moon River and Me, that's candidly fresh and frank. Williams spoke with guest host Jacki Lyden, just minutes after leaving the stage of his theater.
"I try not to stop," says Williams. "If I stop, I don't know whether I'll start again."
The Williams Brothers got their start singing in Des Moines, Iowa, in an era of live radio performances. They were first booked on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic on WHO radio, and later on the National Barn Dance on Chicago's WLS.
The brothers also sang for a show on WLW in Cincinnati, called It's Time To Shine — naturally, sponsored by Griffin Shoe Polish. Williams was still able to sing the entire commercial jingle for Lyden.
Williams says his father was the driving force that led him to enter show business.
"My father, his vision for us was — it wasn't my passion to be a singer," Williams says. "It was really his passion to have his boys sing. And in the long run, I'm very glad that he instilled that in me and got me to do it."
Lyden and Williams spoke about meeting Bing Crosby, supporting Kay Thompson, the breakup of the Williams Brothers, and his early struggles as a solo act.
"You know, I'm a little slow," Williams says. "It took me about three years to figure out that what I really should be doing is [to] try and sing songs like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, and be a pop singer."
Williams also talked about booking Elton John on his television program, his friendship with Robert Kennedy despite Williams' Republican affiliation, and opening his own theater. He even sang the first few bars of his signature hit, "Moon River."
"That's about it for a dollar and a half," Williams says.