Vic Damone, Who Crooned His Way to Postwar Popularity, Dies at 89
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN FEB. 12, 2018
Vid Damone during a rehearsal in Columbus, Ohio, in 1978. NBC/NBC Universal Photo Bank, via Getty Images
Vic Damone, the postwar crooner whose intimate, rhapsodic voice captivated bobby soxers, middle-age dreamers and silver-haired romantics in a five-decade medley of America’s love songs and popular standards, died on Sunday in Miami Beach. He was 89.
Ed Henry, a family friend, said the cause was complications of respiratory failure.
Mr. Damone suffered a mild stroke in 2000 but recovered and retired in 2001 after a farewell tour that included appearances at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall. He came out of retirement a decade later to give one last performance in Palm Beach, Fla., where he lived.
For anyone old enough to remember the age of phonograph records, the velvet baritone of Vic Damone was an unforgettable groove in a soundtrack that also included Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Tony Bennett, singers who arose in the big band era and reached peaks of popularity in the 1950s.
Mr. Damone, a decade younger than Sinatra, never quite became the pop music institution that the others did. Critics said he did not possess Sinatra’s vivid personality or Bennett’s range and sheer energy, although his smooth, unruffled delivery was similar to Como’s.
But many critics and colleagues said he had the best natural gifts in the business: a voice and style that made emotional connections with an audience, especially in nightclubs, with sensitive renditions of songs like “In the Still of the Night,” “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
And he proved durable. After winning on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in 1947, he recorded some 2,500 songs over 54 years. He had his own radio and television programs, made movies, survived rock ′n’ roll and its noisy offspring and became a mainstay of the Las Vegas Strip, and nightclubs where audiences were so close he could almost reach out and touch them with his voice.
Along the way, he made millions, entertained presidents and royalty, refused a part in “The Godfather,” married five times, had four children and underwent analysis. He also survived a brush with the mob, four divorces, a custody fight over his only son and the suicides of two former wives. And he was still working as the millennium turned, with a voice that critics said had not lost its mellow subtleties.
Mr. Damone in 1965. After a stormy personal life, he titled his autobiography “Singing Was the Easy Part.”
“Vic Damone is the kind of performer who comes along once in a lifetime,” Alex Dreyfoos, chairman of the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, told the crowd at one of his last performances. “Fortunately, he came along in our lifetime.”
He was born Vito Farinola on June 12, 1928, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the only son among the five children of Rocco Farinola and the former Mamie Damone. His father was an electrician, and his mother taught piano. He loved singing and was spellbound by Sinatra.
When his father was disabled on the job, he quit Lafayette High School to help support the family. He became an usher at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan, where teenagers were squealing for Sinatra. Encountering Como there in an elevator, he performed a spontaneous audition for him and asked for an evaluation. That led to an endorsement and a lifelong friendship. (Mr. Damone named his only son Perry.)
Mr. Damone on the CBS radio show ”Saturday Night Serenade” in 1947. CBS
The comedian Milton Berle heard Mr. Damone on Arthur Godfrey’s show and arranged a New York nightclub engagement. He was a hit, and he was soon back at the Paramount, singing with Stan Kenton’s orchestra. Taking his mother’s former surname, he became a headliner at the Copacabana in New York and the Mocambo in Hollywood, sang at the White House (for several presidents) and at Royal Albert Hall in London, and toured Europe.
He had an NBC radio show in the late 1940s and an NBC television show in the 1960s and ′70s, and he sold millions of records on the Mercury, Columbia, Capitol, RCA and Warner Bros. labels. His hits included “Again,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “You’re Breaking My Heart,” “I Have but One Heart” and “Gigi,” and his recordings also included the elegant repertoire of Gershwin, Berlin and Cole Porter.
He was in the Army from 1951 to 1953, then resumed his career with club dates and stage, recording and television work. He also appeared or sang in a dozen largely forgettable movies, including “Hit the Deck,” a 1955 MGM musical that also starred Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds and Ann Miller.
Mr. Damone with the singer and actress Diahann Carroll, his fourth wife, at their wedding in Atlantic City in 1987. Scott Stetzer/Associated Press
With the arrival of rock ′n’ roll, music underwent a revolution and many balladeers faded. But Mr. Damone, refusing to change his style, continued to appear on television and in nightclubs, becoming a regular in Las Vegas with a solid following.
He declined the part of the nightclub singer Johnny Fontaine in the first “Godfather” movie (1972), saying the film was “not in the best interests of Italian-Americans.” (Al Martino took the role.)
His personal life made headlines. In 1954, he married the actress Pier Angeli. They were divorced in 1959, but for six years battled over custody of their son. Ms. Angeli committed suicide in 1971.
Mr. Damone with his wife, Rena Rowan, at their home in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2000. David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post, via Associated Press
In 1963, Mr. Damone married Judy Rawlins, with whom he had three daughters. They were divorced in 1971, and she killed herself in 1974. His marriage to Rebecca Ann Jones, in 1974, also ended in divorce.
He married the singer and actress Diahann Carroll in 1987, and they divorced in 1996. In 1998 he married Rena Rowan, co-founder of the apparel line Jones New York. Ms. Rowan died in 2016 after a stroke.
He is survived by three daughters, Victoria Damone, Andrea Damone-Browne and Daniella Damone-Woodard; two sisters, Elaine Seneca and Terry Sicuso; and six grandchildren. His son, Perry, died in 2014.
Mr. Damone’s autobiography, “Singing Was the Easy Part,” written with David Chanoff, appeared in 2009. In it, he recalled a night when a mobster, angry that he had broken off an engagement to the thug’s daughter, dangled him out of a New York hotel window. The Luciano boss Frank Costello got him off the hook, he said.
“We didn’t think about it back then,” he said, “but the mob owned the nightclubs and theaters.”