He taught us how to ‘catch a falling star’

May 15, 2001 9:25 AM

NO MORE LETTERS! Perry Como, the legendary crooner who delighted musical audiences for more than 50 years, died over the weekend at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida. He was 88. He would have been 89 on Friday (May 18).

Among his many LP albums was We Get Letters. It was recorded in 1957 and, in years to come, Perry would play off the title as he opened letters from his fans.

Maybe it’s because I’m an Italian and was always proud of the way he conducted his life. Maybe it’s because he was once a barber in Canonsburg, a small mining town in Western Pennsylvania. Two of my favorite uncles were Pennsylvania barbers. And, for a period in my life, I supplied barbers in the Keystone State. Maybe it’s because I truly admired his easy going, relaxed vocals. When Perry-la opened his lips, music came out. No strain, no pain, just beautiful music.

Perry-la? That was the favorite term used by Molly Goldberg to describe Perry. If you want to know, Molly (played by Gertrude Berg) was a star in the golden age of radio who made a successful transition to television. She often appeared on Perry Como’s show and affectionately referred to him as Perry-la in a fashion befitting her charm.

It has been said that if one comes in like a lion, he goes out like a lamb. Perry Como was an exception. He was always a lamb.

News of his death saddens all of us who grew up in the Como era. Don’t get me wrong. Most of us loved Frank Sinatra, too. But Como always took us up a notch.

I last met the crooner back stage at the Riviera Hotel. He was crowding 80. But it never showed when he sang a number of his hits in the same style he had done for years.

Perry Como sold more than 100 million records in a radio, recording and television career that began in the Depression. "Til the End of Time," "Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes," "Magic Moments," "And I Love You So," "It’s Impossible," "For the Good Times," "Catch A Falling Star," and many more.

Backstage at the Riv, after hearing him sing for nearly an hour, I extended my hand in friendship. He put out his. It was then I realized - and remembered - that his voice was so young but he had the hands of an old man.

I can honestly say that I never heard Perry Como sing a song I didn’t like. It especially included some of his novelty tunes such as "Papa Loves Mambo."

In a 1994 interview, Como said he enjoyed singing romantic numbers, but his fans frequently wanted to hear him do the novelty songs.

When Perry sang, we all dreamed along. He put us on our way to a star. Why not? He was a very decent human being. He had no problem expressing his devotion to God. And, he dearly loved his wife, Roselle, of nearly 65 years. She died in 1998 at age 84.

Unlike so many of the stars of his era - and after - Perry Como kept himself from the show-business rat race. He and Roselle raised three children. They all survive him along with 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Among the many stars who also loved to hear Perry sing was Paul Anka.

"He was very gracious man. When I came down from Canada he put me on television for the first time. We even shared the same barber, Rudy, at the Warwick Hotel. Integrity, integrity and more integrity. He will be missed," Anka told me on Monday.

The news of his death has broken my heart. But, it will all fall back in place again when I crank up the CD player and listen to Mr. C. sing.

And, may God love him so.