Saturday, July 06, 2002

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A small-town farewell
for the world's 'girl singer'


Fans, family pay tribute to Rosemary Clooney

By John Kiesewetter, jkiesewetter@enquirer.com
and Janelle Gelfand, jgelfand@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MAYSVILLE — Rosemary Clooney's friends from New York to Hollywood gathered in this tiny Ohio River town Friday to say their final farewell to the Grammy winning singer and movie star.

[photo] Nick Clooney (left) talks to Dante DiPaolo, husband of Rosemary Clooney, at the graveside service.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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[photo] Karen Smith, sacristan at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Maysville, lights a candle before the funeral Mass Friday.
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[photo] Fans of Rosemary Clooney line up outside St. Patrick's Catholic Church before Friday's funeral.
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        Townspeople began lining up outside St. Patrick's Church at 6 a.m., four hours before the funeral, to pay respects to the “girl singer” whose dreams, said her brother Nick, took her “from Maysville to Singapore, and all points in between.”

        Ms. Clooney, 74, one of the greatest interpreters of American song and Bing Crosby's co-star in White Christmas, died last Saturday at her Beverly Hills home after a six-month battle with lung cancer.

        Her death came four months after the recording industry gave her its highest honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award. It was the singer's first Grammy in a 57-year career that began in Cincinnati, when the blond Maysville teenager and her younger sister Betty began singing on WLW radio.

        The closed-casket service was in the 100-year-old St. Patrick's Church, graced with more than two dozen floral bouquets, many with roses. Cooling fans were set up and drinking water was available in the back of the church, which is not air-conditioned.

        The overflow crowd of about 800 was a mixture of relatives, friends, fans, movie stars, Cincinnati entertainers, at least one of her Mayo Clinic doctors and several nationally known musical figures who were influenced by her long career.

        “We come to the place she knew well, three blocks from her big, slow, muddy river ... to mourn days we will not share with her, and to celebrate the days we did,” Nick Clooney said in a brief eulogy at the conclusion of the Mass. “Let me do something I never would have presumed to do a week ago — speak for Rosemary. My sister would like to thank all of you.”

        Then he turned to the coffin and said, “I have avoided saying two words we have all come here to say, some of us from so far: Goodbye Rosemary.”
       

"She was amazing'

        They came from all over to say goodbye for different reasons.

        “Since I was a little girl, watching White Christmas over and over, I just adored her. She was so down-to-earth. She didn't let celebrity go to her head,” said Dee Dee Denton from Cynthiana, who got up at 4:30 a.m. Friday to make the 45-minute drive to Maysville. Ms. Denton also attended Ms. Clooney's 1997 wedding to Dante DiPaolo in the church.

        Also arriving early from Cincinnati was Eileen Krause, who had seen Ms. Clooney perform at Riverbend Music Center and on television.

[photo] Actor George Clooney was among the nephews and sons of Rosemary Clooney who helped carry the singer's casket.
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[photo] Actors Beverly D'Angelo and Al Pacino leave St. Patrick's Cemetery.
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        “I never got to meet her,” said Mrs. Krause, of Pleasant Ridge. “This is the closest I'm ever going to get to her — until I get to heaven.”

        Betty Russell of Lexington, wanted to be there because of a 50-year-old memory. “I had lunch with her 50 years ago, when she opened the tobacco season in Lexington,” she said. “I can still see her in her full-length mink coat, singing "Come On-a My House.'”

        Standing a few dozen people behind her was Dr. Dana Thompson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who had assisted in surgery there eight weeks ago to help restore Ms. Clooney's singing voice. She said Ms. Clooney had hoped to sing again, as soon as Sept. 28, for the Fourth Annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival here.

        In the hospital, Ms. Clooney had impressed the doctor with her spirit.

        “She was amazing, always talking to people no matter how sick she was, trying to make sure everyone around her was enjoying the day,” she said.

        Dr. Thompson, who trained for two years at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said she “had a real bond with her.”

        “We'd talk about Graeter's ice cream and cheese coneys. ... She would hum things to me and say, "Look, Dr. Dana, my voice is back.' ”
       

A mother's advice

        The service was a traditional Mass of Christian burial, with a half-hour musical prelude that included “Ave Maria.” The communion hymn, “On Eagle's Wings,'' was personally selected by Ms. Clooney. The family also chose ""Panis Angelicus” because it was “the one that I know she loved,” her brother said.

[photo] Nick Clooney and his son George leave St. Patrick's Cemetery
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        Mr. DiPaolo, seated in the first pew, was often comforted by singer Debby Boone, married to Gabriel Ferrer, Ms. Clooney's son. She entered church at his side.

        “He just looked overwhelmed, walking in, right on the same stairs where he'd just — it seems like yesterday — gotten married,” Ms. Boone said.

        Gabriel Ferrer, who read two scripture passages, said he relied on his mother's advice to get through the moment.

        “When my mother sang at Debby's and my wedding, she said it was one of the hardest things she ever did,” he said. “She said she had to keep thinking of the Ohio River ... and that's how she got through it. You just go to another place where you can't almost personalize it.”
       

Final tribute

        The crowd of more than 100 outside the church was quiet and respectful when the 10 pallbearers — sons, grandsons and nephew George Clooney — appeared with the coffin after the service. As the procession of more than two dozen cars wound through the streets to St. Patrick Cemetery in nearby Old Washington, people paused to pay a final tribute. Ms. Clooney was buried on a rolling hill sloping down to the river valley, in the shade of trees with a weathered barn in the distance.

        It was a moment Michael Feinstein, a singer, pianist and Ms. Clooney's former Beverly Hills neighbor, will never forget.

        “The most moving experience that I had today was to see all the people lining the streets in the procession to the cemetery, to see everybody stopping their work, little children holding flowers, and all of the police officers standing at attention,” Mr. Feinstein said. “I'll never forget that.”

        Actor Miguel Ferrer, the oldest of Ms. Clooney's five children, was impressed that so many came and showed “so much support and love,” he said. The actor (RoboCop, Crossing Jordan) recalled how he and his siblings enjoyed summers with their mother in Maysville.

        “We would come and spend every summer here. Either someone would rent a house or we'd be at grandmother's farm,” he said. “It's incredible. Every time I'd come back here, it's like I'm coming home. It's such a part of my life.”

        Miguel and his brothers and sisters, and their children, flew in from Los Angeles for the service.

        Among others who came to Maysville were jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall; Kathryn Crosby, widow of Bing; and actors Al Pacino and Beverly D'Angelo. All were frequently in the audience when Ms. Clooney headlined at New York's Rainbow & Stars nightclub and Feinstein's at the Regency. Ms. D'Angelo, whose father once played bass in Tony Pastor's orchestra, had a special bond with Ms. Clooney, who toured with the orchestra shortly after her 1945 debut on WLW-AM.

        Many struggled with the realization that Ms. Clooney was gone.

        “It hasn't hit me yet that she's not going to walk out on the stage ever again,” said John Oddo, her music director of 18 years, who had flown in from New York. “What I've learned from her I will try to pass onto other younger singers that I work with. I already find myself saying, what would Rosemary Clooney do in this situation?

        Nephew George Clooney, the ER and movie star who slept on the floor of his aunt's home while trying to break into show business in the early 1980s, tried to deflect attention from himself most of Friday.

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        At a reception in nearby Augusta after the service, he stayed inside a house with family instead of mingling with the public gathered under a tent until after reporters had left. He declined an interview, simply saying: “She was a great lady.”

        Also attending the service were Maysville native and former Miss America Heather French Henry, the wife of Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry; Cincinnati TV singers Colleen Sharp Murray, Mary Ellen Tanner and Nancy James; newsmen Walt Maher and Don Herman; producer Dick Murgatroyd; and musicians Lee Stolar and John Von Ohlen.

        “She was always fascinated that Cincinnati had so many girl singers,” said Mrs. Murray.

        “I will miss her as one of my mentors,” said Ms. Tanner, who sang at the reception. “We always kept in touch. With Rosemary, its was always like talking to a girlfriend.”

        Ms. Clooney kept coming back to Kentucky partly because she loved the Ohio River, said her biographer Joan Barthel, who helped her write Girl Singer (Broadway Books; $14.95) in 1999.

        “She had a great connection with the river,” Ms. Barthel said. “At the end of the book, she says, she knows she can always follow the river safely home.”

        Ms. Clooney's passing leaves a void, Mr. Oddo said.

        “She and Tony (Bennett) were the only two left of that generation and that stature and that kind of talent still singing. Tony's the only one left now,” he said.

        As Nick Clooney prepared for her funeral Friday morning, he played some of his sister's recordings.

        “I still feel her presence when I listen to her albums,” he said. “And I have a little conversation with her.”

        He said plans are being made to add Rosemary's songs to a musical clock tower in Augusta, where the singer owned a home overlooking the Ohio River.

        “I believe, unlike most of us, that people will be talking about Rosemary Clooney 50 years from now, or 75 years from now — as they do about Bing Crosby or Al Jolson,” Nick Clooney said.
       
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