Julius La Rosa, a pop crooner known for hits including “Eh, Cumpari,” and whose firing live on the air by TV host Arthur Godfrey in 1953 overshadowed his successes that followed, died May 12 at his home in Crivitz, Wis. He was 86.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Maria Smith. No cause was reported.
Mr. La Rosa was in the Navy when Godfrey heard him sing and invited him to appear on his CBS TV show. After his discharge, Mr. La Rosa became a star of Godfrey’s show from 1951 to 1953, recording several hits including “Eh, Cumpari.”
Godfrey liked to exert control over his entertainers, making demands and restricting their outside work in return for exposure on his popular show. Without Godfrey’s approval, Mr. La Rosa recorded for Cadence Records — formed by Godfrey’s orchestra leader, Archie Bleyer — and had hit singles including “Anywhere I Wander” and “My Lady Loves To Dance.”
His growing popularity bothered Godfrey. On Oct. 19, 1953, Mr. La Rosa was due to begin the TV portion of Godfrey’s show but was kept waiting backstage until the final minutes of the radio-only part of the program. As he finished singing “Manhattan,” Mr. La Rosa and the audience heard Godfrey precede his sign-off by saying, “That was Julie’s swan song with us.”
Godfrey said he fired him because he lacked “humility” and because he had hired an agent.
“I was 23 years old then and filled with myself,” Mr. La Rosa said in a 1991 interview with the New York Times. “Who isn’t at 23, especially if you’re a celebrity?”
The public firing boosted Mr. La Rosa’s career for a while. He served as the summer replacement on Perry Como’s TV show in 1955. That’s when he met Como’s secretary, Rosemary Meyer, and married her. He went on to get his own TV show in 1955. He also appeared on numerous other variety shows in the 1950s and ’60s, including Ed Sullivan’s. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 1980 for best supporting actor for his role on “Another World.”
Mr. La Rosa was born in Brooklyn to Italian immigrants on Jan. 2, 1930. He lived for 42 years in Irvington, N.Y., his daughter said, and continued to tour, perform and act for decades. He was also a longtime disc jockey on WNEW-AM in New York. He and his wife moved to Crivitz in November.
Besides his wife and daughter, survivors include a son.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, my disappointments,” Mr. La Rosa told the Times. “That’s typical for show business. But for a kid from Brooklyn I think I’ve done okay.”
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