It has been a month since I last wrote. During that time I was traveling throughout Europe and heard about the passing of my friend and partner Andy Williams. Many people will write about his great musical contribution and although I am capable of that, I want to tell you about the man, his philanthropy, his zest for life and involvement as well as love of sports.
In the 60's and the 70's with the exception of the Beatles and Elvis Presley, there was no bigger musical performer than Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was being treated for throat problems and for quite a while did not perform.
We spent many years traveling the world together while he weaved his magic. We shared offices in Hollywood. It was here that Andy's friend Bobby Kennedy wrote his acceptance speech on the afternoon of the ill-fated night when he was murdered.
The next day, I put Andy on Air Force One. Two days later. At Bobby's Funeral in New York's Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Andy sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, forever becoming part of our historical fabric.
Andy was selling millions of records. We were doing one-nighters all across the world. The average attendance was 16,000. All profits from the sale of his programs went to the Children's Asthma Institute. His NBC variety Show every Friday Night enjoyed top ratings. His Christmas Shows featuring the entire Williams family were "a must not to be missed" annual event.
Many have talked about how he became synonymous with the song "Moon River". The truth is it happened as a fluke. When Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer came to our offices in Hollywood to pitch "Dear Heart" to be his next single, Andy agreed. On the way out the door, as an after thought, Henry asked Andy if he would put "Moon River" as favor on the "flip", or other side of the 45 RPM. Despite everyone's objection, Andy did it for Henry. We, the so-called brain thrust, thought it was foolish..."My Huckleberry Friend".
"Dear Heart" very quickly became the number one single on the Billboard Charts. One day, in Boston, Andy's manager, the late Alan Bernard, convinced disk jockey Norm Prescott of WHDH to play the other side. The rest became musical history.
At this time, Andy and Claudine had two children, Noelle and Christian. Andy was deeply concerned about his children's health when he met, through Dennis Waitley, Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the Salk Polio Vaccine.
Dr Salk had started the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. The institute needed funds to survive. At the same time, The San Diego Open, a PGA event was about to be dropped from the schedule because of lack of attendance. Andy agreed to put his name as host. A lot of celebrities were doing this, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope among them. The people of San Diego did not know Andy. He stepped in and was active in every phase of the tournament... from deigning the logo to inviting the Pros and the Celebrities.
The tournament went overnight from a $65,000 purse to a $150,000 purse overnight. Andy not only guaranteed the purse, but we produced a star-laden show in the San Diego Civic Center with all proceeds going to the Salk Institute. He also committed part of the profits from his next album.
This year was the 45th Anniversary, today known as the Buick Open with prize money in the millions. For the first five years, I was Co-Executive Director representing Andy along with Dennis Waitley who represented the Salk Institute. It became an immediate success with coverage by ABC TV.
That wasn't all! Andy used his sponsor exemptions for the only two African-American PGA members at the time. Charley Sifford in 1967 and Pete Brown in 1970. That year Pete shocked the golfing world when he beat the likes of Lee Trevino, Arnie Palmer and Jack Nicklaus to win the Championship.
Andy loved sports and in 1967 when the NBA offered two new NBA expansion franchises, one in Milwaukee and one in Phoenix, our company, Barnaby Sports, became Phoenix' major investor.
Johnny Kerr who really just wanted to coach, was slated to be both General Manager and Coach. He told the partnership about a young marketing guy at the Chicago Bulls whom he felt would make a great General Manager. His name was Jerry Colangelo who has since become one of American Basketball's foremost executives. It was fun time!
My daughter Lisa, who was an art major at the university of Arizona at the time, designed the original Logo after we held a contest to name the team with over 5000 respondents. One sad thing, we lost the coin toss to Milwaukee and they got first pick. With it, they selected Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar). The rest is history.
However, our opening was spectacular! I produced a show at halftime featuring many of our partners... all musical giants at the time...Ed Ames. Bobby Gentry, Henry Mancini, the great Saxophonist Shorty Rogers and of course, Andy. They performed with the Phoenix Symphony at mid-court at half time. There have been many imitators since, but this was the first.
His voice is now silenced forever, but will live on through his many recordings. Andy had always wanted to sing with the great Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We could never quite work out the details. But I know, a new Tenor has joined the Heavenly chorus... and the music sounds all the sweeter.