Today, as I reflect on his passing, I am so thankful for the incredible opportunity to have known Andy Williams.
Although I have been a consistent fan of his musical talent, I became more enamored when I met him on a golf course in 2002; we shared notes about living on Lake Taneycomo. We delighted in noting lake life was very fulfilling, but we both spent more time on the golf course than we did on the lake.
By the time I met him, Andy had been living in Branson since the early 1990s. Thanks to local show promoters such as Jim Thomas and Bill Dailey, Andy joined a growing group of talented entertainers who found Branson a welcoming place to continue their careers.
In May of 1992, he opened a $12 million state-of-the-art theatre, calling it the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre. Andy was the first non-country performer to open a theatre in Branson. Thanks to his groundbreaking decision, other non-country performers and theme shows began to move in to the area that would soon be known as the “live music show capital of the world.” I was fortunate to later become the director of the League of Branson Theatre Owners and Show Producers.
My first trip to the Moon River Theatre was sometime during his first season. I wasn’t the youngest one in the audience, but I was likely the youngest one in the audience who knew all the words to all his songs.
While in college, I went through a “Broadway” stage, and gobbled up every album I could find with show tunes. One of my most-often played was his 1964 gold album, Great Songs From “My Fair Lady” and other Broadway Hits. I later found Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes and started collecting movie-themed albums.
I already held Mr. Williams in high esteem for his skill at finding and promoting young talent. Like almost all American women in their early 50s, I grew up with a crush on Donnie Osmond. The first time I recall seeing Donnie was on a TV show with Andy Williams.
I got to talk with Andy about his skill in finding emerging talent. He shared with me his priorities for casting his annual shows, and determining who his special guests would be. At his Moon River Theatre, Andy shared the stage with various guest stars such as Glen Campbell, Ann-Margret, Petula Clark, and Charo.
Some of the corny comedy bits in his show would make me wince, but when Andy sang, it was so golden that some commented he was singing to a tape. My husband Steve and I were so close to the stage for one of his shows that we could see his Adams apple move. I commented at the time that if his singing was faked, he should win an acting award.
Andy and his wife Debbie were particularly caring when Steve deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. By that time, we had become friends with many in the Branson entertainment industry, including those who were a part of Andy’s show. In their company, we ran into Andy often. Every time we met, they wanted all of the details about what Steve was doing, and how I was keeping myself busy. When Steve returned from deployment, we shared stories with Andy and Debbie often at his Moon River Grill.
So it is with sadness that I say, goodbye our huckleberry friend.
You are, and will always be, missed. May you be in a place where you can continue to watch the girls go by.