Singer Vic Damone dies at 89

MIAMI — Vic Damone, whose mellow baritone once earned praise from Frank Sinatra as “the best pipes in the business,” has died in Florida at the age of 89, his daughter said.

Victoria Damone told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that her father died Sunday at a Miami Beach hospital from complications of a respiratory illness.

Damone’s easy-listening romantic ballads brought him million-selling records and sustained a half-century career in recordings, movies and nightclub, concert and television appearances.

After winning a tie on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Hunt,” Damone’s career began climbing. His hit singles included “Again,” ”You’re Breaking My Heart,” ”My Heart Cries for You,” ”On the Street Where You Live” and, in 1957, the title song of the Cary Grant film “An Affair to Remember.”

Damone’s style as a lounge singer remained constant through the years: straightforward, concentrated on melody and lyrics without resorting to vocal gimmicks. Like many young singers of his era, his idol was Sinatra.

“I tried to mimic him,” Damone said in a 1992 interview with Newsday. “I decided that if I could sound like Frank maybe I did have a chance. I was singing his words, breathing his breaths, (doing) his interpretation, with the high notes, the synergy.”

Sinatra and Damone, along with Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Dean Martin and others — comprised a group of Italian Americans who dominated the postwar pop music field. Far from resenting the mimicry, Sinatra praised Damone’s singing ability.

Damone still drew crowds in nightclubs and concerts into his 70s, before illness prompted his retirement to Palm Beach with his fifth wife, fashion designer Rena Rowan.

Damone appeared in several MGM musicals and he was originally cast in “The Godfather,” but the role of a budding singer seeking mob help in a Hollywood career eventually went to Al Martino.

He wrote in his memoir, “Singing Was the Easy Part,” that he never considered himself a showman like Milton Berle or Sammy Davis Jr.

“That wasn’t my particular gift,” he wrote. “My gift was singing.”

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