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Originally published October 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 31, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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Obituary

Robert Goulet, "Camelot" star, dies while awaiting lung transplant

Robert Goulet, the big-voiced baritone whose Broadway debut in "Camelot" launched an award-winning stage and recording career, died Tuesday...

The Washington Post

Robert Goulet, the big-voiced baritone whose Broadway debut in "Camelot" launched an award-winning stage and recording career, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 73.

Mr. Goulet, who had a rare type of pulmonary fibrosis, had been waiting for a lung transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The singer, who had fallen ill while flying home to Las Vegas after performing at a Sept. 20 concert in Syracuse, N.Y., was admitted to a Las Vegas hospital Sept. 30. He was transferred to Cedars-Sinai as a transplant patient Oct. 14.

Mr. Goulet had remained in good spirits even as he waited for the transplant, said Vera Goulet, his wife of 25 years.

"Just watch my vocal cords," she said he told doctors before they inserted a breathing tube.

Mr. Goulet's longtime friend Wayne Newton said his sense of humor "kept my spirits up in some of the lowest valleys in my life."

Honored, applauded and admired for almost 50 years, Mr. Goulet held the esteem of generations of television and theater audiences and record buyers. He also held the top awards in those categories: the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy.

Through the years, he remained identified in the mind of many with his performance as Sir Lancelot in "Camelot," in which he sang the song for which he was to be remembered through the decades: "If Ever I Would Leave You." The Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical starred Richard Burton as King Arthur and Julie Andrews as his Queen Guenevere.

Two years after his Broadway debut in "Camelot," Mr. Goulet won a Grammy in 1962 as best new recording artist, having released three albums that year. He earned a Tony Award as best actor in 1968 for his role in Broadway's "The Happy Time."

A romantic himself in many ways, Mr. Goulet seemed to chroniclers of the stage to have been selected by destiny to bring to life Lancelot, a man of great gifts and human frailties.

He was a fixture in the show-business firmament of his era: a friend of Judy Garland, a colleague of Frank Sinatra, a partner in a duet of "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby.

He strode the boards on Broadway, went before the klieg lights in Hollywood, was featured on television and became a perennial in Las Vegas.

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On television, he played himself in an episode of "The Simpsons" and made many commercials. He toured frequently in "South Pacific" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."

He also toured in "Man of La Mancha," urging with his big voice to dream "The Impossible Dream."

During his heyday, Mr. Goulet also sang at the White House for Presidents Johnson and Nixon and headlined in Las Vegas. He earned a footnote in the saga of Elvis Presley: Mr. Goulet was performing on television when Presley famously blasted his TV screen with a handgun.

Mr. Goulet's full-throated performance style became so well-known that he was parodied on TV and he even parodied himself.

He was married three times and had a daughter with his first wife and two sons with his second, singer Carol Lawrence.

A performer who made a career of finding and passing on the romance in the words and melodies he sang, Mr. Goulet recognized the romance in his own life.

He was born Nov. 26, 1933, in Lawrence, Mass., in a neighborhood where French was spoken. His father was from Quebec, and his mother was from French-speaking Canada by way of Lewiston, Maine.

In one account of his early days, he said that as a boy he sang in the choir in his Roman Catholic church but never gave much thought to a career in music.

But at 13, he was called to the bedside of his ailing father, he told a reporter.

"Robert," he remembered his father telling him, "God gave you a voice. You must sing."

Later that night, his father died.

What could he do? Mr. Goulet asked himself. "I had to honor his wish."

He moved to Alberta, Canada, and lived on a grandparent's farm. He performed with the Edmonton Symphony and remembered receiving $25. It was an eye-opener. He thought "there might be something in this after all," he later told a Canadian newspaper.

After singing in summer stock, he received a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music. In time, he appeared on Canadian television and on Canada's largest stages. His work earned him an invitation to audition for "Camelot."

As he remembered it, Burton was at the rehearsal at which Mr. Goulet gave voice to "If Ever I Would Leave You." According to an account in a Canadian newspaper, Burton stared, jaw agape. "The voice of an angel," Burton said.

Material from the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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