Rosemary Clooney, 74, the mellow-voiced singer who co-starred with Bing Crosby in "White Christmas" and staged a dramatic comeback after her career was nearly destroyed by drugs and alcohol, died June 29 at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She had lung cancer.
Known for her warm, velvety voice, Miss Clooney was once described by Frank Sinatra as "a symbol of modern American music."
She soared to fame with her 1951 recording of "Come On-a My House" and became a star in television and films. Her career was sidelined by her marriage to Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer and the births of their five children. The pair divorced, and her attempts to return to performing were sabotaged by her erratic behavior.
A friend of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's, she was at the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968 when the New York Democrat was assassinated while campaigning for his party's presidential nomination. The event helped trigger a complete mental breakdown. Shortly after the shooting, she was performing in Reno, Nev., when she walked off the stage in a rage without finishing her act. As she recalled in her 1977 autobiography, "This for Remembrance," she "fumed" in her dressing room.
She wrote: "Nobody could approach me. I was like a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Nobody could tell whether it was a dud or the real thing, because one minute I could be completely sweet and kind, the next, a raving monster."
She underwent a harrowing confinement in a psychiatric ward, then began rebuilding her life, gradually resuming her career and reaching new heights as a singer.
An addiction to prescription painkillers was diagnosed.
Miss Clooney was born in Maysville, Ky. Her parents separated frequently, and her father, a heavy drinker, was rarely around. Miss Clooney, along with younger brother Nick -- the father of actor George Clooney -- and younger sister Betty, lived with various relatives.
Miss Clooney started singing with Betty at WLW radio in Cincinnati in 1945. Their salary: $20 each. Bandleader Tony Pastor heard the girls while he was touring in Ohio and hired them. "The Clooney Sisters" made their debut with the band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1947. Two years later, Betty Clooney tired of barnstorming with the band and returned to Cincinnati. Rosemary Clooney also decided it was time for a change. She headed for New York.
Miss Clooney played a few dates on radio and early television shows and in 1950 signed a contract with Columbia Records. She initially achieved some success with children's songs such as "Me and My Teddy Bear" and "Little Johnny Chickadee" and in 1951 scored a minor hit with "Beautiful Brown Eyes."
One day in 1951, Mitch Miller, the mentor of Columbia Records, offered her "Come On-a My House," by Armenian American author William Saroyan.
"I think it was a musically snobbish time in my life," she wrote in her memoirs. "I really hated that song. I hated the whole idea, and my first impression was, what a cheap way to get people's attention."
When she refused to record the song, Miller threatened to fire her. She relented, using an Italian accent instead of Armenian "because it was the only kind of accent I knew."
The song became a huge hit, and her first royalty check amounted to $130,000. She was catapulted to stardom. Over the next four years, she amassed a string of hits, including "Tenderly" (a No. 1 tune that became her theme song), "Half as Much," "Botch-a-Me," "Too Old to Cut the Mustard" (a duet with Marlene Dietrich), "The Night Before Christmas Song" (with Gene Autry), "Hey There," "This Ole House" and "Mambo Italiano."
In 1952, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. The studio starred her in four musicals: "The Stars Are Singing," "Here Come the Girls" with Bob Hope, the Western spoof "Red Garters" and "White Christmas" with Crosby and Danny Kaye. But musicals were going out of style, and after a cameo in "Deep in My Heart" at MGM, her film career was over.
In 1953, she married Ferrer, the Puerto Rico-born actor and director whose brilliant stage career was followed by success in films. He received an Academy Award as best actor in "Cyrano de Bergerac" in 1950.
It was the first marriage for Miss Clooney, 25, the third for Ferrer, 41. Their first child was born in 1955, with others following in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1960.
Miss Clooney also had starred in two TV variety series, and the difficulty of maintaining a career and a home life had begun to trouble her. Ferrer's womanizing led to their divorce in 1961. After a three-year reconciliation, they divorced again in 1967.
More misfortune befell the singer. A two-year liaison with a young drummer ended when he walked out on her.
For years, she had taken pills to assuage grief and maintain her double life. Her children and associates became alarmed at her irrational behavior.
"My brink of despair was rushing up to meet me like the end of a runway for a plane lumbering in vain to get off the ground," she wrote in her autobiography. She detailed her transfer to a double-locked room ("I was a violent case in a violent ward") in St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, where she had given birth to her children.
Miss Clooney's book was adapted for a 1982 TV movie, "Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story," with Sondra Locke portraying her.
After four years of therapy, Miss Clooney return to performing in 1972 at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. For the first time in years, she found joy in entertaining.
"Then, at Christmas in 1975, Bing called me," she said in a 1985 Associated Press interview. "He said he was going to do a concert at the Los Angeles Music Center. Would I appear with him?"
She agreed, thinking it would be a one-time benefit. But the pair continued on to Chicago, New York and London. Clooney's career was reborn. She won a new record contract, and singing dates poured in.
Since her comeback, a time in which she recorded a series of tributes to songwriters such as Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington on the Concord Jazz label, she matured into what jazz critic Don Heckman called "a lot more than a symbol, and a far more intriguing singer than she was during her 'Come On-a My House' days in the '50s."
In 1995, she received an Emmy Award nomination for guest actress in a drama series for her role on "ER" with her nephew. In 1996, she achieved her first No. 1 album, "Rosemary Clooney's White Christmas," which topped the jazz charts for three weeks. This year, she received a special lifetime Grammy Award.
In 1996, Clooney married Hollywood dancer Dante DiPaolo.
In addition to her husband, survivors include her children from her first marriage, her brother, a sister, Gail Clooney Darley, and 10 grandchildren.