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Steve Lawrence, Entertainer Alongside Wife Eydie Gormé, Dies at 88

Reuters
Reuters

Steve Lawrence, the charismatic singer who collected Grammys and Emmys alongside his wife Eydie Gormé, with whom he made up an indelible fixture of the Las Vegas nightclub scene, died at his home on Thursday. He was 88.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a representative for the family.

“My Dad was an inspiration to so many people. But, to me, he was just this charming, handsome, hysterically funny guy who sang a lot,” son David Lawrence said in a statement to Variety. “Sometimes alone and sometimes with his insanely talented wife. I am so lucky to have had him as a father and so proud to be his son. My hope is that his contributions to the entertainment industry will be remembered for many years to come.”

Lawrence announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and simultaneously stepped back from the spotlight in 2019, a decade after Gormé’s own retirement. Gormé died in 2013 at age 84 after a brief, undisclosed illness. Lawrence mourned her loss in a statement that hailed her as “one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time.”

The pair had been partners “on stage and in my life for more than 55 years,” Lawrence also said. “I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing.”

Gormé felt much the same, but insisted that it was she who had fallen in love first, after they’d met singing on Steve Allen’s landmark late-night show in the early 1950s. “What ‘we fell in love’?” she demanded of Lawrence in a typically good-natured ribbing during a 2003 interview on Larry King Live. “We did not—I fell in love.”

“You fell in love first,” King clarified.

“Absolutely,” she said, adding later that the two started getting paired together on duets and, as they got closer, “I just fell madly in love with him.”

As Steve and Eydie, the duo toured around the country, honing their act in Vegas, Miami, New York, and Chicago. They also graced the sound stages at television shows hosted by friends like Ed Sullivan, Danny Kaye, Carol Burnett, and Julie Andrews. “One of the best shows we ever had was after a terrible argument,” Lawrence recalled to The New York Times in 1992. “It was jugular time. The orchestra was starting to call divorce lawyers. Who knew what it was about? We went on the stage so hostile…

“And the more we snapped at each other, the more the audience loved it. After the show, we were fine. It was like therapy.”

They wed in 1957, the same year they noticed “everything was changing,” Lawrence recalled in an interview decades later. Rock ‘n’ roll had just touched down, and the hottest names of the day were Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson. But Lawrence and Gormé were set in their ways, staunchly refusing to change with the times.

“A lot of people our age—” Gormé, then 60, began explaining to the Times, only for Lawrence, 57, to cut in: “You mean 90 years old.” As if he hadn’t spoken, Gormé continued, “—try to make the switch and do rock. But if we came out in jeans and sneakers it would look ridiculous. We’re stuck with who we are.”

So they stuck to their guns, continuing to perform old-school Tin Pan Alley standards like “We Got Us” (1960), “I Want to Stay Here” (1963), and “Real True Lovin’” (1969) for appreciative audiences. In 1979, they won an Emmy for their NBC songbook special, Steve & Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin, and sold out an eight-night engagement at Carnegie Hall in 1981.

A Times critic noted of their show, “They are both confident, full-throated singers who show the kind of assured stage presence that can come from years of playing to Las Vegas audiences,” and that their “voices blend with a sparkling warmth.”

But both also did remarkably well flying solo. Lawrence notched nearly three dozen songs on the Billboard chart between 1952 and 1966, with five top-ten hits that included the likes of “Go Away Little Girl,” his 1962 No. 1 hit that sold a million copies. He worked on Broadway, earning a Tony nod in 1964 for his turn as an ambitious schmo in What Makes Sammy Run?, and in Hollywood, most notably appearing as a slimy, smooth-talking booking agent in The Blues Brothers and its 1998 sequel.

Lawrence and Gormé had two sons: David, a composer known for penning the score to High School Musical, and Michael, who died unexpectedly from cardiac issues at age 23 in 1986. The couple were devastated by his loss and did not perform for the next year.

Their first night back, they told King, was hard. “A lot of trepidation, a lot of nervousness,” Lawrence recalled. “But after we were on, the audience—I don't know. I’m sure they knew what we had been through, and they really made us feel terrific.”

“David was with you, I think, right?” King prompted him.

Lawrence agreed that their son had been with them. “You know, it’s—you go on. You go on as best you can,” he said. “You hang on to those you love.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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