Robert Goulet and Paul W. Tibbets Jr.

The handsome singer who became a camp idol

Judy Garland once described Robert Goulet as a living 8x10 glossy. The strikingly handsome singer with the rich baritone voice was also known for his blue bedroom eyes, and female fans routinely tossed him keys to their hotel rooms after a performance. Even during his first Broadway audition, when he was only 27, everyone applauded—a rarity. An agent had recommended him to librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe for the role of Lancelot in their new musical, Camelot. After the audition, the agent informed the singer that he had negotiated a contract for Goulet to be paid $750 a week. An overjoyed Goulet replied that he would perform for nothing. “Shut up,” the agent snapped. His Broadway debut was a triumph, and his hit song from the show, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” became an instant classic. Goulet went on to remain a popular singer for nearly a half-century. Yet he never achieved Hollywood stardom, became a Broadway headliner, or, despite more than 60 albums, equaled his initial recording success. Much of his popularity depended on appearances in touring theatrical revivals and regular gigs at Las Vegas showplaces. Later in his career, the aging idol became a camp icon, satirized as an old-school crooner on such TV shows as Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. Goulet didn’t mind. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re a fool,” he shrugged. The son of a Canadian father and an American mother, Goulet was born in Lawrence, Mass., and sang in a church choir. One night when he was 13, said the Toronto Star, he was called to the bedside of his ailing father, who said, “Robert, God gave you a voice. You must sing.” His father died that same night. The family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where Goulet took singing lessons, dropped out of high school, and at age 16 performed with the Edmonton Symphony. In 1955, he won a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Five years later, when his agent arranged for him to audition for Camelot, “he was comfortably entrenched” in Showtime, a popular Sunday variety show on Canadian TV. Richard Burton, who played King Arthur opposite Julie Andrews’ Guinevere in Camelot, was another early admirer of Goulet, said the Los Angeles Times. During rehearsals, he remarked that the young singer had “the voice of an angel.” In 1962, Goulet won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. A string of hit records followed, and Goulet was also a frequent guest on The Ed Sullivan Show and other programs, and hosted his own TV specials. Among his films were Honeymoon Hotel, with Nancy Kwan, and I’d Rather Be Rich, with Sandra Dee. Goulet was married three times. In a memoir, his second wife, Carol Lawrence, accused him of having “a hair-trigger temper, extreme mood swings, and a serious drinking problem.” “When I’m using a microphone or doing recordings,” Goulet told The New York Times, “I try to concentrate on the emotional content of the song and to forget about the voice itself. 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. They just listen to the sound.”

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