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Vic Damone ( 1928 - )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]

Long before there was 'American Idol," there was Vic Damone.

A high school dropout from Brooklyn who worked as an usher and elevator operator, Damone won Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts in April of 1947. And as with Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard and Taylor Hicks 60 years later, that shoved him through the door into music stardom.

Born Vito Rocco Farinola on June 12, 1928, Damone was forced to quit school when his father died. Nevertheless, he always seem to bump into the right people. Once, when he was employed by the Paramount Theater in New York, Perry Como got on his elevator. As Damone later told the story, he told Como he was a huge fan of his and asked: "My mother says I can sing, but I can't afford money for singing lessons. Could you listen to me?"

The young man stopped the elevator between floors to "audition," and when he was finished, Como told him, "Don't stop singing."

He didn't, appearing on some local radio shows before entering the Godfrey competition. His triumph there attracted the attention of comedian Milton Berle, who got him some nightclub gigs that evcentually led to a contract with Mercury Records.

A "crooner" in the popular late '40s and 1950s style, Damone hit the Billboard Top 10 with his first two singles --"I Have But One Heart" and "You Do." He also appeared in two movies -- both of them forgettable -- before he entered the Army in 1951. Even there, he met people destined to be famous, serving with Johnny Cash.

Shortly after being mustered out in 1954, Damone married Italian actress Anna Marie Pierangeli -- the first of his five wives.

Credited by Frank Sinatra -- his boyhood idol -- with having "the best pipes in the business," Damone evolved into not only a fixture on the radio (with his movie connections, he scored a number of hits from film soundtacks) and early television talk shows, but in the burgeoning Las Vegas scene. He became a satellite member of the Rat Pack, and once paid a Vegas showgirl to run naked through a steam room where Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sinatra were relaxing.

Even as Damone's record career coasted to an end in the 1970s and '80s, he was still a fixture on the Strip. Along the way, he fought back from bankruptcy and a mild stroke suffered in 2000. His final concert appearance was at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, FLA. in 2001, backed by a 60-piece orchestra, but re-releases of his albums continued to sell.

Damone's fourth marriage was to television star Diahann Carroll. He credits his fifth wife, Rena Rowna-Damone, with saving his life after the stroke.

In 1997, Damone was given an honorary diploma by Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. He released his autobiography, "Singing Was The Easy Part," on his 81st birthday.

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