Robert Goulet was in good spirits as he waited for a lung transplant, even telling doctors before they inserted a breathing tube, “Just watch my vocal cords,” his wife said.
The big-voiced baritone, whose Broadway debut in “Camelot” launched an award-winning stage and recording career, died Tuesday at a Los Angeles hospital, where he had been awaiting the transplant after being diagnosed last month with a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis. Goulet was 73.
Vera Goulet, his wife of 25 years, said they were last able to speak three weeks ago before the singer was placed on a respirator.
Longtime friend Wayne Newton said Goulet’s sense of humor “kept my spirits up in some of the lowest valleys in my life.”
“His incredible voice will live on in his music, and as Bob so brilliantly sang, ’There will be another song for him and he will sing it,’ for God now has another singing angel by his side,” Newton said in a statement.
The Massachusetts-born Goulet, who spent much of his youth in Canada, gained stardom in 1960 with “Camelot,” the Lerner and Loewe musical that starred Richard Burton as King Arthur and Julie Andrews as his Queen Guenevere.
Goulet played Sir Lancelot, the French knight who falls in love with Guenevere.
He became a hit with American TV viewers with appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other programs. Sullivan labeled him the “American baritone from Canada,” where he had already been a popular star in the 1950s, hosting his own TV show called “General Electric’s Showtime.”
Goulet won a Grammy Award in 1962 as best new artist and made the singles chart in 1964 with “My Love Forgive Me.”
‘Concentrate on the emotional content’
“When I’m using a microphone or doing recordings I try to concentrate on the emotional content of the song and to forget about the voice itself,” he told The New York Times in 1962.
“Sometimes I think that if you sing with a big voice, the people in the audience don’t listen to the words, as they should,” he told the newspaper. “They just listen to the sound.”
While he returned to Broadway only infrequently after “Camelot,” he won a Tony award in 1968 for best actor in a musical for his role in “The Happy Time.” His other Broadway appearances were in “Moon Over Buffalo” in 1995 and “La Cage aux Folles” in 2005, plus a “Camelot” revival in 1993 in which he played King Arthur.
His stage credits elsewhere include productions of “Carousel,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Pajama Game,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “South Pacific.”
He returned to Broadway in 2005 as one half of a gay couple in “La Cage aux Folles.”
Goulet had no problems poking fun at his fame, appearing recently in an Emerald nuts commercial in which he “messes” with the stuff of dozing office workers, and lending his name to Goulet’s SnoozeBars. Goulet also has been sent up by Will Ferrell on “Saturday Night Live.”
“You have to have humor and be able to laugh at yourself,” Goulet said in a biography on his Web site.
The only son of French-Canadian parents, Goulet was born in Lawrence, Mass. After his father died, his mother moved the family to Canada when the future star was about 13.
From opera to the theater
He received vocal training at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto but decided opera wasn’t for him. He made his first professional appearance at age 16 with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Pianist Roger Williams said he first met Goulet when he performed on a Canadian television show.
“He appeared on the last part of the show, and I knew then that he was a tremendous talent,” Williams said. “He could shake a room with that big beautiful voice.”
In his last performance Sept. 20 in Syracuse, N.Y., the crooner was backed by a 15-piece orchestra as he performed the one-man show “A Man and his Music.”
Although Goulet headlined frequently on the Las Vegas Strip, one period stood out, evidenced by a photograph that hung on his office wall. It was the mid-1970s, and he had just finished a two-week run at the Desert Inn when he was asked to fill in at the Frontier, across the street.
Overnight, the marquees of two of the Strip’s hottest resorts read the same: “Robert Goulet.”
“I played there many, many years and have wonderful memories of the place,” Goulet told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
His first two marriages ended in divorce. He had a daughter with his first wife, Louise Longmore, and two sons with his second wife, Carol Lawrence, the actress and singer who played Maria in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story.”