Rosemary Clooney Battled Mental Health and Addiction Issues

Singer had a public breakdown and recovery

Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney. Paramount Pictures / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Rosemary Clooney (born May 23, 1938, died June 29, 2002) was a gifted singer whose career was disrupted midstream by bipolar disorder. Her family history contains some elements common for people with manic depression.

Early Life

She and her sister Betty were left behind when their mother went off to be married a second time, taking only their brother Nick with her; their alcoholic father eventually abandoned the young sisters.

The two girls were living in poverty when they won a contest and earned a regular job singing on the radio in 1945.

The Clooney Sisters were hired by bandleader Tony Pastor two years later, and when Betty decided to return to their home city of Cincinnati for a quieter life, Rosemary went on alone. In 1951 she recorded "Come on-a My House," a song she hated, and it made her a star.

Personal Life

In 1953 Rosemary Clooney married actor Jose Ferrer. Their oldest son, Miguel Ferrer, went on to enjoy a successful acting career. Co-hosting a daily morning radio show with Bing Crosby led to her being cast with him and Danny Kaye in "White Christmas" (1954). She also worked in television and other films in the 1950s, while having four more children by 1960. Trying to maintain both family and strenuous career demands began to take its toll on her, and she became addicted to tranquilizers and sleeping pills.

Her marriage crumbled; she and Ferrer were divorced in 1961, reconciled, and divorced again in 1967. In 1996 she married Dante DiPaolo, a dancer she had dated before marrying Ferrer.

Mental Health Challenges

In 1968, after the trauma of being present when her good friend Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, she suffered a raging manic episode onstage and soon was hospitalized for psychiatric care, at times in a double-locked ward because she had become so violent.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. J. Victor Monke, said she had a psychotic reaction with severe depression and paranoid features. She had hallucinations. Her therapy continued for several years.

By the time she was seen by the viewing public again, she had gained a great deal of weight which stayed with her for the rest of her life. But her voice still had the same warm, mellow sound.

Her career was reborn after she appeared in a benefit with Bing Crosby in 1976. An autobiography, "This for Remembrance," which describes her illness, was published in 1977. She continued to work for many more years. She made two appearances with nephew George Clooney on the television series "ER," winning an Emmy for one.

She published a second autobiography in 1999, "Girl Singer: An Autobiography," which discussed her problems with addiction to the drugs she was prescribed for depression.

Death and Legacy

Rosemary Clooney died Saturday, June 29th, 2002 after a struggle with lung cancer. She was 74. She and her brother co-chaired the Betty Clooney Foundation for the Brain-Injured, honoring their sister who died of a brain aneurysm in the prime of her life.

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