Rosemary Clooney, one of the last of the classic singers of American popular song, died Saturday at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 74 and had suffered from lung cancer, her publicist said in a statement. Clooney made her name as a singer of jazz and pop standards, though in later years, she was as well known for her famous family, including nephew George.
Clooney got her start in the 1950s singing the novelty tunes that were her biggest hits, ”Come on-a My House” and ”Mambo Italiano.” She went on to a brief career in movies, notably, ”White Christmas” with Bing Crosby. But as her career declined in the rock & roll era, she did what she really wanted to do, sing songs from the classic American songbook and redefine them with her smoky voice and breezy style, as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett were doing at the time. ”I finally got to sing Gershwin and Berlin instead of novelty songs,” she said later. ”It was as if I’d been liberated.”
Although she continued to perform toward the end of her life, she may have been better known to younger audiences as a paper-towel pitchwoman and as the aunt of George Clooney. (His father, AMC movie host Nick Clooney, was Rosemary’s younger brother.) Married to actor Jose Ferrer from 1953 to 1961 and again from 1964 to 1967, she bore him five children, including ”Crossing Jordan” star Miguel Ferrer. ”She was very feisty,” Nick Clooney told the Cincinnati Enquirer, saying he had just talked to her on Thursday, when she told him she hoped to attend the fourth annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival in their hometown of Maysville, Ky. in September.
”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.”