Born November 26, 1933, in Lawrence, MA; died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, October 30, 2007, in Los Angeles, CA. Singer and actor. An actor and singer who made his name in the Broadway debut of Camelot, Robert Goulet continues to be best remembered for that role. He went on to sing on the Las Vegas stage and worked on both stage and screen throughout his life. Known by both Ameri- can and Canadian audiences for his baritone voice and his charm and appearance, Goulet received the top awards for television, theater, and music over the course of his career, winning an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy.
Over the course of his career, Goulet was always working on stage, screen, or in the recording studio. He released 24 solo albums and was recorded on more than 60, appeared in films including Scrooged and Atlantic City, performed in theaters from Broadway to regional venues, and on tour in such shows as Man of La Mancha and South Pacific. During the height of his career, he sang for Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and he was a frequent headliner in Las Vegas.
Born in a French-speaking community in Massachusetts to parents with ties to French Canada, Goulet was encouraged early on to sing. “God gave you a voice, and you must sing,” Goulet recalled his father instructing him from his deathbed, according to the Washington Post. Goulet chose to honor his father’s last wish and, at the age of 13, became dedicated to the idea of becoming a singer. During his teens, he performed with the Edmonton Symphony, for which he was paid. This was the encouragement he needed to devote himself to a career as a professional singer.
After his father’s death, Goulet’s family moved to Canada, where, after dropping out of high school, he received a scholarship to attend the Royal Con-servatory of Music and appeared on the Canadian television program Pick the Stars. After an attempt at finding work in New York, Goulet returned to Canada and, in Toronto, began making headway in theater. He was cast in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) production of Little Women and appeared on variety shows. He became “Canada’s first matinee idol,” according to the Los Angeles Times, though he is said to have disliked the reputation.
Due to his growing reputation, Goulet was encouraged to audition for a new musical, Camelot. His audition went so well that it earned him applause—a rarity—and he was cast as Lancelot. Starring with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, both primarily known only in England at that point, Goulet received complimentary reviews from Broadway critics. Variety called Goulet the “perfect Lancelot,” according to the New York Times. Though critics were lackluster in their response to Camelot on the whole, the fans were not. It ran for 873 performances between 1960 and 1963, and when it was reprised in 1993, Goulet was invited back onto the cast, this time as King Arthur.
The performance made the reputations of all three young actors, and Goulet took his signature song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” from the show. “Something in his voice evokes old times and romance,” New York Times Magazine critic Alex Witchel was quoted as saying in the New York Times. Judy Garland is said to have referred to Goulet as a “living 8x10 glossy,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite this, Goulet had trouble in his own private relationships. In 1956, he had married Louise Long-more, with whom he had a daughter, but their relationship dissolved as the run of Camelot was ending. That same year, Goulet married actress Carol Lawrence. Their marriage was a rocky one; in 1976, they separated and four years later, they divorced. In 1982, Goulet married writer and artist Vera Novak, who managed all of his business affairs.
Though Goulet did not appear in the film version of Camelot, he continued to appear on stage, earning a Tony for his performance in The Happy Time. In addition to his continued stage career, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and in several movies, performing with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby. Goulet appeared on variety shows and television movies, including Brigadoon and Kiss Me Kate, as well as his own television specials. Along with live-action performances, he served as the voice for a cartoon cat in Gay Pur-ee and as the singing voice of a cartoon toy in Toy Story 2.
Goulet’s stage persona gave him the reputation of a campy, old-school performer and led to parodies of his work. He, in turn, parodied his own reputation. Goulet performed the voice of a cartoon version of himself on The Simpsons and appeared in commercials for ESPN and Emerald Nuts. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re a fool,” Goulet was quoted as having said in the Los Angeles Times. “My job is to entertain, not go out there and be myself.”
A survivor of prostate cancer, Goulet was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and was awaiting a lung transplant at the time of his death. While in the hospital, he remained forward thinking, instructing doctors, according to CNN.com, “Just watch my vocal cords” as they inserted a breathing tube. “Just give me a new pair of lungs and I’ll hit the high notes until I’m 100,” his wife reported him as saying on E! Online.
“Robert Goulet was a monumental presence on the stage and had one of the great voices of all time, which often overshadowed his many other talents,” pianist Roger Williams told the Los Angeles Times. “He really could do it all—act, dance and was funny as hell, especially when he was making fun of himself. Robert always took his craft seriously, but never took himself seriously. Oh, how we will miss this great guy.” Wayne Newton, who was Goulet’s best man at his third wedding, told People, “His incredible voice will live on in his music.” Goulet is survived by his wife, Vera; his daughter by his first marriage, Nicolette; and his sons from his second marriage, Christopher and Michael. He died in a Los Angeles hospital on October 30, 2007. Sources: CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/Music/10/30/obit.robert.goulet.ap/index.html (October 31, 2007); Entertainment Weekly, November 9, 2007, p. 24; E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/news/article/index.jsp?uuid=8e059624-55f7-4e53-abaa-df462834b0e1 (October 30, 2007); Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2007, p. B8; New York Times, October 31, 2007, p. A25; People, November 12, 2007, p. 106; Times (London), November 1, 2007, p. 69; Washington Post, October 31, 2007, p. B7.
—Alana Joli Abbott