Fans, friends remember singer and actress Rosemary Clooney, dead at 74

Monday, July 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Tony Bennett recalled the warmth in her voice. Michael Feinstein remembered a joyful soul. And Bob Hope's wife spoke of her courage.

All were saddened at the passing of Rosemary Clooney, the mellow-voiced singer who died Saturday at age 74 in her Beverly Hills home. She had been hospitalized earlier in the month for a recurrence of lung cancer.

In a ceremony on Sunday, flowers were placed on Clooney's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Web sites devoted to the singer were flooded with comments from fans.

``She was one of America's finest pop vocalists, with a clear, pure voice filled with warmth and sincerity,'' Bennett said in a statement. ``She was a wonderful person.''

Clooney co-starred with Bing Crosby in ``White Christmas'' and was known for her version of the song ``Come on-a My House'' by Armenian-American author William Saroyan.

``For over 50 years she has brightened our lives with the richness of her personality and her voice,'' Dolores Hope, a fellow singer and wife of entertainer Bob Hope, said in a statement. ``Her courage and love have been an inspiration to all who called her friend.''

Clooney's younger brother, Nick Clooney, an entertainer and former television news anchor in Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he spoke with her Thursday and she had talked enthusiastically about returning to her hometown of Maysville, Ky., for the fourth annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival in September.

``She was very feisty,'' Nick Clooney said. His son is actor George Clooney.

Rosemary Clooney started singing with her younger sister, Betty, on WLW radio in Cincinnati in 1945.

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

Two years later, Betty tired of the life and Rosemary headed for New York, where she 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.''

``I really hated that song. I hated the whole idea, and my first impression was, what a cheap way to get people's attention,'' she later wrote in her memoirs.

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 catapulted Clooney to stardom.

She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1952 and the next year married Jose Ferrer, the Puerto Rico-born, Academy Award-winning actor and director. Their first son, Miguel, was born in 1955, followed in rapid succession by Maria, Gabriel, Monsita and Rafael.

Clooney also starred in two TV variety series, and the difficulty of maintaining a career and a home for her husband and young children began to trouble her.

She divorced Ferrer in 1961. After a three-year reconciliation, they divorced for the final time in 1967.

For years she had taken pills to assuage personal grief and maintain her life as a singing star and a single mother. Overeating caused her to gain 60 pounds. Her children and associates became alarmed at her irrational behavior.

After four years of therapy, Clooney return to performing in 1972 at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. For the first time in years, she found joy in entertaining an audience.

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

She agreed, thinking it would be a one-time benefit. But the pair continued on to Chicago, New York and London. Clooney's career was reborn. She won a new record contract, and singing dates poured in.

In 1996, Clooney married Dante DiPaolo, a Hollywood dancer she had dated before meeting Ferrer.

In addition to her husband and five children, Clooney is survived by her brother; a sister, Gail Clooney Darley; and 10 grandchildren.

Services were to be held in Beverly Hills and Kentucky; details were pending. Clooney was expected to be buried in Maysville.

``Her music was an extraordinary extension of this joyful soul,'' her longtime friend, singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, told the Los Angeles Times. ``She was an earth mother, a heart person, and that quality came through in her music.''