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Bing Crosby’s 1977 obituary as it appeared in the Spokane Daily Chronicle

The front page of the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Oct. 14, 1977. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The front page of the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Oct. 14, 1977. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Madrid, Spain (AP) – American singer Bing Crosby died Friday while playing golf in Madrid, the news agency Cifra reported. He was 73.

Crosby fell to the ground at the 17th hole of the La Moraleja golf club on Madrid’s outskirts and was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack, the Spanish agency said.

Crosby recently completed a tour of Britain – including a sell-out performance at London’s Palladium – which he said was a test of his recovery from a back injury suffered in a fall from a theater stage in Pasadena, Calif. The show marked his 50th year in the business.

Spokane’s most famous son, Crosby was born in Tacoma May 1, 1904, the fourth of seven children of Harry Lowe Crosby, a brewery bookkeeper, and Kate Harrigan Crosby. The Crosby family moved to Spokane when Bing was a small boy.

Christened Harry Lillis Crosby, Bing said he got his nickname because as a boy he liked a comic string with a character named Bingo.

He attended Webster elementary school and Gonzaga high school, played baseball, basketball, handball, football, and participated in elocution contests. He earned money with a newspaper route, by picking apples and working in a logging camp two summers. One winter he was an early-morning janitor in a loggers’ and miners’ club.

A piano and a tin-horn phonograph in the Crosby Home, E508 Sharp, encouraged his musical leanings. As a freshman at Gonzaga University, he joined five other youths in a group called the Musicaladers. None could read music. They improvised their own versions of record hits and played for dances and parties.

After the band broke up, Crosby and another member, Al Rinker, worked up a singing act which they presented at the old Liberty Theater. He quit studying law in his third year at Gonzaga University and with Rinker, headed for Los Angeles and a try at show business.

They auditioned for a vaudeville booker and got a theater job. Both sang to Rinker’s piano accompaniment. For variation, they got trombone and jazz band effects, vocally. The act toured coast and Northwest theaters.

Bandleader Paul Whiteman signed Crosby and Rinker in Los Angeles. In New York, he teamed them with pianist Harry Barris as Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys. Rinker and Barris played miniature pianos. Crosby, standing between them, beat a small cymbal. Their recording of Barris’ “Mississippi Mud” won wide popularity.

The Whiteman band went to Hollywood to film “The King of Jazz.” It was during this period, Crosby related in his autobiography, that he was arrested on a charge of reckless driving and suspicion of drinking. Crosby said he was sober despite a drink or two, but was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

He served about 40 days before his sentence was commuted but toward the end was released daytimes in custody of a policeman to do a Rhythm Boys number in the movie.

Later, the trio left Whiteman and appeared with Gus Anaheim’s band at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Barris composed some of Crosby’s biggest hits, including “I Will Surrender, Dear,” “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and “It Must Be True.”

Crosby then began singing and acting in a series of 20-minute, slapstick movie shorts for producer Mack Sennett for $600 each. He proposed to his first wife across a chicken dinner at the Cocoanut Grove.

She was the former Wilma Wyatt, a native of Harriman, Tenn., whose professional name was Dixie Lee. She was a star of Broadway musical comedies and the screen. She and Crosby were married Sept. 29, 1930, and after a few more movies, she retired from show business. Crosby settled down to being a model family man.

Crosby began singing on the CBS Radio Network and performed for 29 weeks at New York’s Paramount Theater.

His brother, Everett, already in Los Angeles selling trucks when Bing first arrived, became his manager. Another brother, Larry, handled his public relations. Their father, “Pop” Crosby, supervised Crosby’s fan mail and handled checking accounts until his death in 1950.

The first Crosby-Bob Hope-Dorothy Lamour movie, “The Road to Singapore,” was made in 1939. Other “Roads” took them on comedy adventures to Morocco, Utopia, Rio and Bali. Succeeding Crosby films included “The Birth of the Blues,” with Mary Martin, “Holiday Inn,” with Fred Astaire, and “Just for You,” with Ethel Barrymore.

After 1954’s “The Country Girl,” for which Grace Kelly won an Oscar, Crosby left Paramount to free-lance. At M-G-M he made “High Society,” with Miss Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and “Man on Fire.” Two of his best-known roles were as priests in “Going My Way” and “Bells of St. Mary’s.” His religion was Roman Catholic.

In World War II, Crosby traveled more than 50,000 miles entertaining troops.

Starting in 1937, he sponsored a pro-amateur golf tournament annually at Del Mar and later at Pebble Beach, Calif., paying for all expenses, including prize money. The proceeds went into youth recreation centers and other local charities. Exhibition golf matches with Bob Hope and other celebrities raised thousands of dollars for charities.

Crosby began acquiring race horses in 1935 and formed a racing and training partnership, the Bing-Lin stable, with Lindsay Howard. At one time it numbered 21 horses.

Crosby helped establish the Del Mar race track in San Diego County. He sold his nearly half-million dollar interest in 1946.

Crosby had several homes in California and a 19,000-acre ranch in Nevada, where the family spent summer vacations and his four sons from his first marriage worked as regular hands at standard wages. He sold the ranch in 1958, reportedly for more than $1 million. Mrs. Crosby had died of cancer in 1952.

In 1955, Crosby built a summer home at Hayden Lake, Idaho, which he later sold for $100,000.

In 1957, Crosby married actress Kathryn Grant, a brown-eyed beauty from Texas. He was 53, she 23—five months younger than his son, Gary. They subsequently had two sons and a daughter.

Shortly after their marriage, she accompanied Crosby to Spokane, where he helped dedicate the $650,000 Crosby Memorial Library, which he had given his Alma Mater, Gonzaga University. The library includes a Crosbyana Room containing prints of all his motion pictures, records, Oscars and other citations.

In 1964, Crosby gave a $150,000 gift to Gonzaga’s new Society of Jesus faculty residence. In 1937, the school had given him an honorary doctor of music degree. It named him to the Board of Regents in 1955 and in 1968 awarded him its highest honor, the DeSmet Medal, upon his presentation to Gonzaga of the nation’s first Microfilm Research Center.

Crosby was a member of the Spokane Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, and the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington.

One of Bing’s forebears, sea captain Nathaniel Crosby, had settled in Tumwater, Wash., in the early 19th century. The captain was Bing’s link to Elder William Brewster, one of 100 passengers on the Mayflower, which sailed into Plymouth harbor in 1620. As a direct 11th generation descendant of Brewster, Crosby was given a life membership in the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants.

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