Frankie Laine, the big-voiced singer whose string of hits made him one of the most popular entertainers of the 1950s, died Tuesday. He was 93.
Laine died of heart failure at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, Jimmy Marino, Laine’s producer of more than a dozen years, told The Associated Press.
“He was one of the greatest singers around,” Marino said. “He was one of the last Italian crooners type.”
With songs such as “That’s My Desire,” “Mule Train,” “Jezebel,” “I Believe” and “That Lucky Old Sun,” Laine was a regular feature of the Top Ten in the years just before rock ’n’ roll ushered in a new era of popular music.
Somewhat younger listeners may remember him best for singing the theme to the television show “Rawhide,” which ran from 1959 to 1966, and the theme for the 1974 movie “Blazing Saddles.”
He sold more than 100 million records and earned more than 20 gold records.
“He will be forever remembered for the beautiful music he brought into this world, his wit and sense of humor, along with the love he shared with so many,” Laine’s family said in a statement.
Laine said his musical influences included Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and jazz artists including Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday.
“When people nowadays say that Elvis was the first white guy to sound black, I have to shake my head; what can you do?” he said in a 1987 interview. “At the time of ’That’s My Desire,’ they were saying that I was the only white guy around who sounded black.”
He occasionally recorded songs by country singers, such as “Hey Good Lookin”’ and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams. In 2004 he released an album called “Nashville Connection.”
Laine’s variety show “Frankie Laine Time” ran for two summers, 1955 and 1956, on CBS, and he also appeared in films including “When You’re Smiling,” and “Sunny Side of the Street.”
He had a top 25 hit on the Billboard charts in 1969 with “You Gave Me a Mountain,” a song written by Marty Robbins.
Laine was born Frank LoVecchio on March 30, 1913, in Chicago, the son of a barber who emigrated from Sicily.
He struggled from his teens until well into his 30s — even having to earn a living as a marathon dancer — before hits began coming his way with “That’s My Desire” in 1947. His breakthrough came when Hoagy Carmichael heard him sing in a Los Angeles nightclub and praised his work.
“People like to say, ’Oh, I wouldn’t change a thing,”’ he said in an interview for the book “Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music.” “But if I had it to do over again, there is one thing I would change. I would make it happen maybe 10 years sooner.
“Ten years is a good stretch of scuffling. But I scuffled for 17 years before it happened, and 17 is a bit much.”
In recent years, he remained active in touring and in charity fundraising. Punning on the title of one of his hits, he called his 1993 autobiography “That Lucky Old Son.”
He made his last performance in 2005 on a PBS television special.
He was married to Nan Grey, a leading lady in Hollywood films of the 1930s who died in 1993.
Survivors include his second wife, Marcia; a brother; and two daughters.