Oct 22, 2012

By Bob Komsic

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Andy Williams was remembered Sunday for a smooth voice that could soothe the soul and a warmth that became synonymous with Christmas as celebrities and fans  gathered for a memorial tribute at his Moon River Theatre in the southwest Missouri town the entertainer adopted as his home.

More than 1,000 people attended the tribute hosted by entertainer Peter Marshall that started as an invitation-only event, but was opened to fans as word spread through Branson.

Williams, who died last month at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer, was serenaded  by a series of artists who got their start with him decades ago or had performed with him over the years; the Lennon Sisters, Osmond Brothers and Gatlin Brothers, among them.

Entertainer Bob Newhart choked up with emotion as he joked of his friendship with Williams.

“Christmas is never going to be the same to me,” Newhart said.

Williams himself also appeared on the video screen as clips recalling his musical albums, TV variety show and Christmas specials were played.

Williams had three platinum and 18 gold records, and five Grammy award nominations during a career that began at age 8 — when he performed with his older brothers Dick, Bob and Don — and continued nearly until his death as he performed at his Branson theatre named for his signature song, “Moon River.”

Williams became a big star in 1956, the same year as Elvis Presley, with the swing song “Canadian Sunset.”

He hosted “The Andy Williams Show” through the 1960s into 1971, and the show won three Emmys.

His annual Christmas specials, featuring Williams dressed in colorful sweaters singing favourites such as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” continued long after his TV show ended and were renewed with live performances after Williams opened his Branson theatre in 1992.

Williams was passionate not only about singing and entertaining, but about art, architecture, golf and virtually everything he did, his family and friends said.

His older brother Dick drew a standing ovation after singing at the service.

Then the 2 1/2-hour memorial tribute closed with a video of Williams singing “May Each Day” — a tune he often used to close his own shows.

“May each day in the year be a good day. May each day find you happy and gay. And may all of your days be as lovely as the one you shared with me today,” Williams sang. “May each day of your life be a good day, and good night.”

Then the theatre lights went dark.

And an audience applauded one final time.

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