BRANSON, Mo. (AP) - Branson officials and performers on Wednesday were mourning the loss of crooner Andy Williams, whose move two decades ago to the Ozarks to open a theater brought a new audience to the country music hub.
Williams, who became a major star in 1956, died Tuesday night at his Branson area home, according to his publicist Paul Shefrin. Williams announced last year that he had bladder cancer.
Williams - who hosted a hit television show in the 1960s, had 18 gold records and three platinum records, and was nominated for five Grammy awards - moved to Branson in the early 1990s. He opened the Moon River Theater in the middle of the city's entertainment corridor.
"All of the years that he had his television show, and then all the connections he had in the music world and the entertainment world, he was able to bring all that to Branson," Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley said.
She said Williams often spoke about how his friends questioned his move to Branson, a town of about 10,000 residents.
"They didn't understand why Andy, who could live anywhere he wanted to live, would choose a rural community in southwest Missouri," she said. "But he enjoyed bringing people in and saying, 'Look, here is what I've created.'"
Jimmy Osmond, who also moved to Branson years ago to perform because of Williams, said he had been planning to return to Branson next week to do a show at Williams' request.
"Branson would never have had the appeal to all cross-sections of the people if it wasn't for Andy," Osmond said. "Andy brought an Old Hollywood class to the town that, you know, Branson would have desperately missed."
He added that Williams enjoyed being in Branson because he loved - and needed - to perform.
"It wasn't about money," Osmond said. "He said ... 'this is what I do.'"
Tony Orlando also said he moved to Branson nearly 20 years ago because of Williams' influence. Orlando opened his own Branson theater, which has since closed, but he continues to live and perform in Branson.
"He paved the way for all of us to come here," Orlando said. "Without question he led the parade of non-country performers coming to Branson. And the country performers embraced anybody who Andy knew."
Presley said it was unclear what would happen to Williams' theater, but Orlando suggested it become a Branson landmark.
"I think the theater will stand and have a life of its own because of Andy's presence," Orlando said. "I don't think we will ever lose Andy's presence."