Monday, July 01, 2002

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Maysville mourns its Rosie


Star to be buried in her beloved hometown

By John Kiesewetter jkiesewetter@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MAYSVILLE — Since Rosemary Clooney was hospitalized for lung cancer in January, Blanche Chambers has been praying extra hard for her childhood friend.

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Blanche Chambers of Maysville holds a picture of herself with Rosemary Clooney in 1953.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        “I just felt like things were not good for her, being in the hospital,” said Ms. Chambers as she clutched her prized possession: a 1953 photograph of her with Ms. Clooney taken when the star returned home for the premiere of her film debut, The Stars are Singing.

        On Sunday, fans and family members in her hometown about 60 miles up river from Cincinnati awoke to the sad news — the city's most famous daughter died of cancer late Saturday in her Beverly Hills home. She was 74.

        At St. Patrick's Catholic Church on Third Street, one block east of the Russell Theatre where she received a hero's welcome home 49 years ago, the Rev. William Hinds announced her death during 8 and 11 a.m. Masses.

        “I told them that Rosemary died, and asked them to pray for her, for her children, and her family,” the Rev. Hinds said. The Kenwood native, who had officiated at Ms. Clooney's 1997 wedding to longtime companion Dante DiPaolo, will celebrate the Mass of Christian burial for Ms. Clooney at St. Patrick's later this week, probably Friday.

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Flowers and notes left Sunday on the doorstep of Ms. Clooney's home in Augusta.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        Nick Clooney, her brother, said the death came Saturday without warning. She was recovering from surgery to remove cancer from her left lung at the Mayo Clinic.

        “It was a shock. She had not been doing well, but nothing near enough to suggest this turn of events. We were thinking in terms of calendars, not watches,” said Mr. Clooney, who lives 20 miles up river in Augusta.

        While musicians and entertainers praised Ms. Clooney's silky smooth singing style and her 57-year show business career, folks here were talking about the Rosie they knew — a loyal friend who never forgot the hometown that named a street in her honor.

        Stardom didn't go to her head. She was the same Rosie, they said, even after the five No. 1 hit singles in the 1950s; the Time magazine cover story in 1953; co-starring with Bing Crosby in White Christmas, or hosting a national TV variety show from 1956 to 1958.

PHOTO GALLERY
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        “She was very down to earth, and loved Maysville,” said Ms. Chambers, who played with Rosemary after school while Ms. Chambers' mother washed dishes at the old Central Hotel across from the Clooneys' home.

        “Whether she was talking to a king or the pope, she absolutely never forgot where she came from. She helped put Maysville on the map,” said cousin Ben Breslin.

        To Mr. Breslin, Ms. Clooney was “just a cousin,” someone who loved to have fun. Sitting beneath framed photos of Ms. Clooney's wedding, he recalled how the singer liked to embarrass him when she sang in town. At the 1998 Rosemary Clooney Music Festival here, Ms. Clooney led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to him.

        “She was so friendly to everybody. She always took time to chat with you,” said Mary Ann Culp, the distant cousin who is music director at St. Patrick's. She will supervise the music for Ms. Clooney's funeral, as she did for her wedding 4 1/2 years ago in the 90-year-old church next to where she attended grade school.

        The Rev. Hinds remembered his 1997 meetings with Ms. Cloo ney and Mr. DiPaolo before the wedding. Ms. Clooney was urged to marry Mr. DiPaolo, a former Hollywood dancer, and “to get back right with the church,” by Dolores Hope, wife of comedian Bob Hope, he said.

        “At first, it was going to be kind of a private wedding,” the priest said. As word spread, she decided to invite the whole town to what became the social event of the 1990s.

        “Rosemary opened her wedding to all of Maysville. A lot of stars would never had done that,” Ms. Chambers said.

        Friends and family said they had not tried to contact Ms. Clooney during her convalescence. They kept in touch through her brother.

        “I was kind of waiting for a time when she would be feeling better,” the Rev. Hinds said.

        Maysville residents had not seen her since her annual visit in September to raise funds for restoring the Russell Theatre.

        “I didn't want to bother her, being so ill,” Ms. Chambers said. She showed reporters a color photograph taken last fall with Ms. Clooney, which she carried in a plastic bag with the cherished 1953 black-and-white photograph that appeared in both of the singer's autobiographies, This For Remembrance (1977) and Girl Singer: An Autobiography (1999).

        Ms. Clooney was looking forward to returning home for the fourth annual music festival on Sept. 28, according to her brother. That's what they talked about on Thursday, Mr. Clooney's last conversation with his sister.

        “I had a very good conversation with her. She was very upbeat and feisty,” Mr. Clooney said. She was uncertain about being strong enough to sing, but talked about getting a new Bob Mackie dress to wear for the occasion, he said.

        On Friday, Mr. Breslin was thinking about his cousin while attending the Cincinnati Pops concert starring Michael Feinstein, a close friend of Ms. Clooney.

        “I was sitting there at Riverbend thinking, "Gosh, I miss Rosemary being on that stage,'” he said.

        So he stood in line after the show and asked Mr. Feinstein to autograph the Pops program for his ailing cousin. He mailed it to her Saturday morning, hours before she died.

        “She was a fun, fun gal. I'm gonna miss her something awful,” Mr. Breslin said.

        In Augusta, several fans paid tribute to Ms. Clooney Sunday by placing flowers at the front door of her two-story yellow brick home on Riverside Drive overlooking the Ohio River.

        Next to one bouquet was this hand-written note: “Rosemary — Your music and memory live on in the fabric of our lives.”

        Many people strolled past the home unaware that it was Ms. Clooney's part-time residence. They were preoccupied with the arts, crafts and food booths along Riverside Drive for the 25th annual weekend Sternwheel Regatta.

        “Some people have been talking about her as they were going by,” said artist Nancy Cooke from Rabbit Hash, who was selling her watercolors in front of Ms. Clooney's home.

        Mr. Clooney said his sister told many family members she wanted to be buried in Maysville, not the Los Angeles area, where she had lived for nearly 50 years.

        “She wanted to be buried from St. Patrick's. That's where she was baptized, where she made her first communion, where she was married,” Mr. Clooney said. “She always said it was the first place she sang on purpose — meaning someone actually asked her to sing. She was in the first grade.”

        Ms. Chambers wasn't surprised to hear that Ms. Clooney will be buried with family in St. Patrick's Cemetery, on a hill south of downtown.

        “She's coming home,” Ms. Chambers said. “She'll be in Maysville forever now, bless her heart. She'll be here for the rest of time.”

        Donations may be made to the Rosemary Clooney Fund for Support of Pulmonary Research c/o Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905.

        Jim Knippenberg of the Enquirer contributed to this report.

       



Rosemary Clooney Remembered
Click through photo gallery
- Maysville mourns its Rosie
Rosie's friends remember courageous, talented woman
Our critics pick their Clooney favorites
Clooney's biggest hits available on CD
Clooney's movie roles
Through the years with Rosemary Clooney
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