Vic Damone dies at 89

MIAMI (AP) — 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.

Damone’s career began climbing in the 1940s after he won a tie on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Hunt.” 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.”

Born Vito Farinola in Brooklyn, N.Y, on June 12, 1928, to immigrants from Bari, Italy, Damone dropped out of high school after his father, an electrician, was injured on the job.

Damone adopted his mother’s maiden name when he began his career, after catching an early break while working as an usher at the Paramount Theater in New York City, according to a family statement.

The 14-year-old bumped into Perry Como in an elevator at the theater, stopped it between floors, and started singing. Then he asked Como whether he should continue voice lessons, and Como said simply, “Keep singing!” and referred him to a local bandleader.

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.

In 1954, Damone married the Italian actress Pier Angeli, after her mother refused to allow her to marry James Dean. The couple had a son and named him Perry before divorcing in 1959.

Marriages to actress Judy Rawlins, with whom he had three daughters, and Houston socialite Becky Ann Jones also ended in divorce. In 1987, Damone and actress-singer Diahann Carroll married after a long romance, and they paired for night club and concert tours. They divorced in 1996.

Damone is survived by two sisters, his three daughters and six grandchildren.

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