Perry Como, 87, a onetime barber whose melodic baritone voice and old-shoe affability helped him become one of the nation's most popular entertainers on records, radio and television, died yesterday at his home in Jupiter Inlet Beach Colony, Fla.
A daughter told the Associated Press that Como, who had been ill for some time, died in his sleep.
The son of Italian immigrants, Como toured with bands in the 1930s, began a radio show in the 1940s and entered television in its infancy. Easygoing and relaxed, he had his own show for years and won additional fame for popular specials at Christmas and on other occasions.
His way with a ballad and his comfortable presentation of novelty numbers helped his record sales soar well over the 100 million mark. He had 20 gold records, and he was recognized in 1987 for his lifelong contributions to show business as one of the winners of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Among his memorable renditions were "If I Loved You," "Till the End of Time" and "Far Away Places." He was also successful with " 'A' -- You're Adorable," "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" and "Some Enchanted Evening."
The obvious sentiment with which he could render "Melancholy Baby" or "Till the End of Time" did not prevent him from pouring his energies into novelty numbers such as "Papa Loves Mambo" or from enthusiastically chanting the "a hubba-hubba-hubba's" of "Dig You Later."
Engaging and laid-back in a cardigan sweater, Como succeeded as host as well as singer -- at times it seemed as if no season or holiday could pass without being celebrated by a Perry Como TV special.
"The Perry Como Thanksgiving Show," on NBC in 1965, was followed that year by "The Perry Como Christmas Show." In 1966 came "The Perry Como Springtime Special," and then "The Perry Como Summer Show."
After a period of semiretirement, Como began a resurgence in the 1970s, in which he made world tours and once again scored hit singles such as "It's Impossible" and "For the Good Times."
In many ways, it was a recapitulation of the American success story for Como, who was born Pierino Como on May 18, 1913, in Canonsburg, Pa., into a family that came to include 13 children. As a boy, he apprenticed in a barbershop and was said to have owned his own shop before he was 16.
Given to singing while he snipped, Como was heard by a range of people who passed through his doors, many of them the miners and millhands who populated his western Pennsylvania region. But one of those listeners was apparently someone who knew someone who knew someone else. Before too long, Como was auditioning for Freddie Carlone's Orchestra.
By another account, Mr. Como was at a dance in Cleveland when youthful friends literally pushed him onto the stage to sing with Carlone.
He spent a few years crisscrossing the Midwest with the band, at a salary of less than $30 a week. One thing led to another, and he joined the Ted Weems band, which had a record contract.
Como found that the road to success included unexpected twists and turns. World War II began, and in 1942, the Weems band broke up. Como, married and with a family, thought hard about returning to the barbershop. But a $100-a-week offer by CBS for a radio show changed his thinking.
Soon his career expanded beyond radio and club appearances. In 1943, RCA signed him to a recording contract, which was to go on for decades. There were only about 1 million television sets in the United States in 1948, when Como entered the new medium. His regular variety show appearances in the nation's living rooms continued until 1963.
The true Perry Como was not readily distinguishable from the figure of easygoing charm who presented himself on stage. At times, he once told an interviewer for a Pittsburgh newspaper, he would return to the town where he had run his two-chair barbershop.
"I'd walk up to someone [and] say, 'You wanna haircut?' And they'd say, 'Oh my God, Perry, how are you?' "
Then, Como said, "we'd go through a little crying jag, me with 'em."
Late in his career, in an interview for Good Housekeeping magazine, Como said, "For the amount of talent I had -- and I couldn't dance, act or tell a joke -- I enjoyed a tremendous career."
Como was named top-selling male singer in a poll by Billboard magazine in 1946. He won two Emmy awards for most outstanding television personality in 1956 and 1957, and he won a Grammy award for best male vocal performance in 1958 for "Catch a Falling Star."
He was named a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He married Roselle Beline in 1933; she died in 1998. They had three children, Ronald, David and Teri.