Vic Damone, longtime resident whom Frank Sinatra once described as “having the best pipes in the business,” died from respiratory failure on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
He was 89 and the widower of Rena Rowan Damone, co-founder of Jones New York.
Born Vito Farinola on June 12, 1928, in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, he was the son of Italian immigrants from the Adriatic seaside city of Bari.
His father, Rocco Farinola, was an electrician; his mother, Mamie Damone Farinola, was a homemaker and piano teacher.
Mr. Damone was a 14-year-old dropout working as an usher at New York’s legendary Paramount Theater when he found himself in an elevator with the evening’s headliner, Perry Como. He told Como he was taking voice lessons and began singing, then asked Como if he should continue his voice lessons. Como — who would also, later in life, become a Palm Beach County resident, — said “Keep singing!”
He served in the Army from 1951-53.
After his military service, he took his mother’s maiden name professionally and carved out a career that encompassed film, television, concerts and more than 2,500 recordings.
And he named his only son Perry.
George Wood, of the William Morris Agency, was Mr. Damone’s agent. Wood’s wife, Lois, is known to Palm Beachers as philanthropist and veterans advocate Lois Pope.
“In Vic’s book, he mentioned how George saved his life when he was contemplating suicide by jumping out of a high-rise building in New York City,” Pope said Monday. “George pulled him back. Vic always mentioned that every time we saw one another and how grateful he was to my husband. George and Vic were great men. I’m saddened by his passing.”
In 1972, he famously turned down the role of Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather because the character, who was widely believed to be modeled after Frank Sinatra, was portrayed as weak.
“I discussed it with Frank, ” Mr. Damone told the Palm Beach Daily News in an interview, “and he didn’t tell me to turn it down. Everybody knew that Johnny Fontaine was young Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Frank had already seen the script. But he just told me to do what I thought was best. I told the producer that I had too many other commitments. But really, I thought it was disrespectful to Frank, although I never (said) that to a soul while Frank was alive.”
He received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
He moved to Palm Beach, where he met and married his fifth wife, Rena Rowan, and moved into a home on Via Bellaria and lived the life of a Palm Beach retiree — mornings at his desk writing what would become his best-selling autobiography, lunches by the pool, golf, and social and charitable events.
He was active in animal welfare causes, especially the island’s feral cats, the Navy SEAL Foundation, Vita Nova, the Renaissance Learning Center for Autism, PennMedicine, Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, St. Edward Church, and the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook, founded by Old Port Cove resident Dick Robinson. Mr. Damone was the first recipient of the organization’s Legend Award.
“We’ve known each other since the ’50s,” Robinson said from his home on Monday. “But we really got to be very close after he moved to Palm Beach and got involved with Songbook. We were together a lot,” said Robinson, who was at Mr. Damone’s bedside on the last day of his life. “We shared a lot of stuff; he really was one of my best friends. When most people saw him they a saw a great singer, but I saw a spiritual, deeply reflective man. I will miss him.”
Born a Catholic, Mr. Damone served as an altar boy in his youth, but in the ’60s became a follower of the Ba’hai faith.
Mr. Damone was married five times: to actress Pier Angeli, to Judith Rawlins, to Becky Ann Jones and to actress Diahann Carroll. All except his last marriage ended in divorce.
Rena Rowan Damone died in 2016.
He is survived by his daughters, Victoria Damone, Andrea Damone-Browne and Daniella Damone-Woodard; two sisters, Elaine Seneca and Terry Sicuso; and grandchildren Tate, Paige, Sloane, Rocco, Daniella and Grant.
His eldest child, Perry, died of lymphoma in 2014.
Memorial donations may be directed to The Palm Beach Beach Police Foundation at the request of the family. www.pbpf.us/donate or call 561-820-8118.