"From the corner of Front and market to the London Palladium, from porch swing to padded cell, strapped down in a violent ward, I never stopped singing. I always sang." was stilled on June 29th when Rosemary Clooney died of lung cancer, at age 74. Besides her legacy of being one of this country's most celebrated popular singers, she is remembered for her vocal variety: her unique rendition of sentimental ballads, bouncy dialect songs, and children's tunes. In her halcyon years, she headed the record best seller lists, from 1951 through most of that decade. She also received a special Look magazine award in 1954 and she became a TV and film star. Her career was sidelined, though, when she married Academy Award actor Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950) an unfaithful husband even as she bore him five children in five years. Other emotional upsets involved the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E Kennedy (she was present). For years she took pills to aid her in a struggle against personal grief and her unhappy marriage. But her life spiraled downward into depression, addiction to various prescription drugs, and her breakdown during a 1968 Reno engagement. She walked offstage in a rage and failed to complete performing.
She was hospitalized and spent four years in therapy, but, amazingly, after her career was nearly destroyed by drugs and alcohol, she began a comeback. Though overweight, she possessed a charm, beauty, and adept delivery of her songs, and she added new ballads and novelties to her sterling repertoire. In 1972 she returned to performing in a successful concert at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. She found that audiences, old and new, were awaiting her return. She also took pride in her Irish ancestry no doubt an element in her tenacious comeback. Her Clooney ancestors were from Kilkenny and the Guilfoyles (her maternal side) from Cork They had come generations previously, with the Irish surge that arrived in the United States to escape hunger. Born in Maysville, Kentucky, on May 28, 1928 to Andrew, a house painter, and Frances (Guilfoyle) Clooney, she had a younger sister, Betty, and brother Nicky, a TV personality, writer and father of popular actor, George Clooney. She also later had a half-sister Gall. The Clooney's marriage was chaotic and the children were raised, in turn, by their paternal and maternal grandparents.
The Clooney sisters began singing to help their grandfather's re-election mayoralty campaign in Maysville, sang at benefits together, school productions, and while living with their maternal grandparents in Cincinnati, Ohio, successfully auditioned for radio. Later they went on the road with Tony Pastor's Orchestra, crossing the country. By 1949 Betty had tired of musical barn-storming with Pastor's Orchestra and returned to Cincinnati. Rosemary deciding to pursue a solo career, headed for New York, did radio and early television appearances, and joined Columbia Records, where under the tutelage of Mitch Miller she recorded ArmenianAmerican author/ playwright William Saryoyan's lyric, "Come-on-a-my House." "I really hated that song," she admitted. "I hated the whole idea, and my impression was, what a cheap way to get people's attention. The song became a hit. Her royalty check was $130,000, and she became a star. Among her subsequent hit recordings: "Botcha Me," "This Old House," "Tenderly," "Hey There," and various children's songs.
Paramount Pictures placed her in costarring roles in The Stars are Singing and Here Come the Girls (1953), and Red Garters and White Christmas, Bing Crosby's successful follow-up to Holiday Inn in 1954. She also did a 1955 biopic, Deep in My Heart, about Sigmund Romberg, which starred Jose Ferrer. But immersed in personal problems and her aforementioned mental breakdown, her career took a nosedive. In 1977 she wrote her frrst autobiography, This For Remembrance which included her harrowing experiences in a California psychiatric ward before her recovery. In 1978, NBC-TV presented a dramatization of her story. In 1982 Sandra Locke played her in the TV film, Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story. In 1999 she revealed even more of her dramatic recovery in another autobiography, Girl Singer (written with Joan Barthel). During the 1980s and 1990s she revitalized her career as one of our great jazz stylists. In 1995 she received an Emmy Award nomination as guest actress in a drama series for her role on the popular ER, which starred her nephew, George Clooney. She played a role analogous to her experience, a patient who sang while hospitalized. That year she also began the final acclaimed years by switching to a small Concord recording label. "They let me sing what I'd always wanted to sing. The great pop and jazz standards."
She rebuilt her reputation thereby, performing the work of Gershwin and Cole Porter in club and theater dates. She is survived by her husband Hollywood dancer Dante Di Paolo, her brother, her half-sister, 10 grandchildren, and extended family. We should also note that she was a subscription holder to Irish Connections Magazine and this writer had planned to interview her for a future issue.