Perry Como Born: May 18,1912-Died: May 12,2001 Part Six
Beginning in 1967, Como began reducing his TV appearances, gradually becoming limited to seasonal and holiday specials with the emphasis being on Christmas. Como had numerous Christmas television specials, beginning on Christmas Eve 1948, and continuing to 1994, when his final Christmas special was recorded in Ireland. They were recorded in many countries, including the Holy Land, Mexico, and Canada, as well as many locations throughout the United States. The 1987 Christmas special was cancelled at the behest of an angry Como; The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) was willing to offer him only a Saturday 10 PM time slot for it three weeks before the holiday. Perry filled the yearly gap for his fans with live Christmas concerts in various locations.
Como’s final Christmas special was filmed in January 1994 in Dublin’s Point Theatre before an audience of 4,500 people, including Irish President Mary Robinson and Como’s friend, the actress Maureen O’Hara. Perry Como’s Irish Christmas was a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) production, made by an Irish independent production company in association with RTÉ. Como, appearing aged and unwell, had the flu during the show which took four hours to record. At the show’s conclusion, Como apologized to his Dublin audience for a performance he felt was not up to his usual standards.
During his visit to Dublin, Como visited a barber shop called “The Como” on Thomas Street. The owners, lifelong fans who named their business in his honor, had sent photographs of the shop and letters to Como inviting him to visit. Photos of Como with the barbers were framed in the shop. “The Como” closed in 2002 but it remains a household name in The Liberties.
Como died in his sleep on May 12, 2001, at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, six days before his 89th birthday. He was reported to have suffered from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Como’s older son, Ronnie, and his daughter, Terri, could not agree on their interpretations of Como’s 1999 living will and it became a matter for the courts in the year before his death. His funeral Mass took place at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Palm Beach, Florida. Como and his wife, Roselle are buried at Riverside Memorial Park, Tequesta (Palm Beach County), Florida.
Honors and tributes
Como received the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male; five Emmys from 1955 to 1959; a Christopher Award (1956) and shared a Peabody Award with good friend Jackie Gleason in 1956. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1987. Posthumously, Como received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002; he was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Como has the distinction of having three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, television, and music.
In the official RCA Records Billboard magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these words: “50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all.” Composer Ervin Drake said of him, “… [o]ccasionally someone like Perry comes along and won’t ‘go with the flow’ and still prevails in spite of all the bankrupt others who surround him and importune him to yield to their values. Only occasionally.”
Canonsburg has always been very proud to be the birthplace of Perry Como; the local newspaper of the time, Canonsburg Daily Notes, seems to have been the first to write an article about him. Their edition of July 19, 1934, featured a photo and the following: “A young Canonsburg boy threatens to snatch the crown from Bing Crosby’s head. Perry Como, son of Mr. and Mrs. Pietro Como of 530 Franklin Ave. is said to have one of the grandest baritone voices in the country.” ] The borough honored him three times over the course of his life. The first of these events took place September 14, 1946, when Third Street, where Perry worked in the barber shop of Steve Fragapane, was renamed “Perry Como Avenue”. Perry, Roselle, and Como’s mother, Lucy, attended the ceremonies and banquet held at the State Armory.
A second ceremony marking Perry Como Day took place August 24, 1977, but the most ambitious project began in 1997 – a statue of the singer. The planned statue had the blessing of Como’s wife, Roselle, who died the year before it was unveiled on May 15, 1999. As part of the festivities, Como’s stool and music stand from The Perry Como Show and the equipment he used at Steve Fragapane’s barber shop were donated to the borough. Como was not present at the unveiling because of poor health. The inscription on the base, “To This Place God Has Brought Me”, was a favorite saying of Como’s; the musical feature was added in 2002.
The Como celebration crossed the Atlantic in August 2002. Palena, Italy, the birthplace of Como’s parents, had a long-standing week-long festival in honor of the singer. A smaller version of the statue was taken to Palena by the mayor of Canonsburg, Anthony Colaizzo. Perry’s son, David, and his wife were also in attendance when the town of Palena renamed a street for Como. There is a marble plaque on a Palena town wall stating that Pietro and Lucia Como, parents of Perry Como, emigrated from this village to the United States which dates from these ceremonies.
Perry Como never forgot Canonsburg either. One of the things he did to give a helping hand to his home town was to convince RCA to open a record-pressing plant there. Those who needed to raise funds for local projects like Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs found him always ready to do whatever was needed.
In 2007, the local McDonald’s was totally rebuilt. The new building decor features memorabilia of Como along with that of fellow singer and Canonsburg native, Bobby Vinton. A children’s playground in Canonsburg on Giffin Avenue is also named for Como. In downtown Canonsburg, all of the tree grates are marked with information about the records that sold a million copies and the town clock hourly plays one of the hits of Como (141), Vinton (44), or the Four Coins (7), also from Canonsburg.