Farewell to Rosemary
By Irish America Staff
October / November 2002
The singing legend Rosemary Clooney died on June 29, after a long battle with lung cancer. She was laid to rest on Friday, July 5, in her hometown of Maysville, Kentucky.
Clooney, 74, had been singing for more than half a century. In 1945 when she was 16 she and her 13-year-old sister, Betty, were paid $20 to sing duets of pop songs on a radio station in Cincinnati. At 23, Rosemary was signed by Columbia Records and with her first single, “Come-on-a My House,” she became a star. Soon Hollywood came calling and she was making movies such as White Christmas with Bing Crosby.
In 1953, Clooney married actor Jose Ferrer and put her career on hold to bring up the couple’s five children. (They divorced in 1961, remarried and divorced again in 1967). Right after the split Clooney dropped out of sight. The woman who had told the world she only wanted to “give-a-you candy” could barely function. Add to that the fact that she had been in the room the night Bobby Kennedy was shot. It took her a decade to put the pieces together but she did, and in 1977, when she was barely making ends meet singing in small clubs, Bing Crosby asked her to join him on tour to celebrate his 50th year in showbusiness.
In an interview with Pat O’Hare for Irish America (Dec./Jan. 2002 issue), Clooney recalled that time “It was great, Joe Bushkin was on piano, Bing’s wife and one of his kids were part of the tour, and we sold out everywhere. We played a Broadway house, then went to Ireland, to play the Gaiety in Dublin.”
After her tour with Crosby, Rosemary enjoyed a career resurgence. She signed a contract with the Concord Jazz label and in 1996 her album Rosemary Clooney’s White Christmas topped the Jazz charts for three weeks.
The singer returned to Ireland many times. Her most recent trip was in June 2001, when three of her children and her brother Nick and his wife all went along to see her perform at the Dublin Concert Hall. It was also the occasion of the baptism of her Irish grandchild, the offspring of her son Raphael who married a Belfast native, Heather O’Neill.
The funeral service was held in the same church in which Clooney was baptized and was attended by 700 mourners including Clooney’s husband, Dante DiPaolo, her children and her brother Nick, father of actor George Clooney, who was one of the pallbearers. She was buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery near her mother and grandmother. ♦