She and husband Steve Lawrence helped make the '60s swing with their duets – and onstage banter
Concert and recording superstar Eydie Gormé, who – performing everything from ballads to bossa nova with singing partner and husband Steve Lawrence – made an indelible impression on American audiences during the swingin’ ’60s, died Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas, her spokesman, Howard Bragman, tells PEOPLE. She was 84.
“Legendary singer and performer Eydie Gorme passed away peacefully today at Sunrise Hospital following a brief illness,” Bragman said in a statement. “She was surrounded by her husband, son and other loved ones at the time of her death.”
In his own statement, Steve Lawrence said: “Eydie has been my partner on stage and in life for more than 55 years. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing.”
He added: “While my personal loss is unimaginable, the world has lost one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time.”
A favorite on The Ed Sullivan Show, in showrooms in the Catskills and in Las Vegas – where they married on Dec. 29, 1957, and later took up permanent residence – as well as on stages, including Carnegie Hall, Steve and Eydie, as they were known, sang popular hits of the day, including Broadway standards, and exchanged pointed personal banter – all of which their audiences ate up.
Born in the Bronx to a tailor originally from Sicily and a mother from Turkey, Gormé was a Sephardic Jew whose real name was Edith Gormezano. Spanish was spoken in the home, while at William Howard Taft High School she became the Taft Swing Band’s lead female vocalist.
Her gift for languages helped land her a job as a translator at the United Nations shortly after high-school graduation, and her mellifluous voice soon got her an audition with Tex Beneke’s Big Band. A year’s tour followed, as did a contract with Coral Records.
She met Lawrence, a cantor’s son (his original surname was Leibowitz), in September 1953 on Steve Allen’s Tonight show. Booked for two weeks as the program’s vocalist, she ended up staying five years. Lawrence was also a regular on the show, and the two were often paired in musical numbers and comic sketches.
Once married, in 1958 they had their own summer TV show, which was canceled after the one season because Lawrence was drafted into the Army. Gormé then performed in nightclubs around Washington, D.C., where he was stationed, and after his discharge in 1960, the “Steve and Eydie” act was born, as was their legend.
So accustomed were the two to appearing together, that when Lawrence did a show by himself in 2009 – Gormé had retired and took up blogging on her and her husband’s website – he told Newsday that it was strange. “It’s also about the first time in 50 years I’ll be able to finish a sentence without being interrupted.”
Not that they didn’t have successes on their own. In 1962, Lawrence had his great hit, “Go Away Little Girl.” A year later, Gormé scored on the Billboard charts with “Blame It on the Bossa Nova.” The bouncy number made her an international star, and she became a Latin crossover artist when she began singing in Spanish the following year.
Gormé and Lawrence had two sons: David, a composer, and Michael, who died in 1986, at 23, from an undiagnosed heart condition. Steve and David Lawrence survive her, as does a granddaughter and generations of fans. “Services are pending and will be private,” said Bragman.
“A prolific 93 albums, 12 Emmys, 2 Grammys and innumerable national tours later, they’re still singing together,” The New York Times reported in 2004, when the two headliners performed to an appreciative crowd in Westbury, Long Island.
The newspaper added: “At the end of a show that lasted nearly three hours, Ms. Gormé’s sign-off, ‘God bless us all,’ prompted a standing ovation.”