Whenever holiday season rolls around, we can’t help but hear the wonderful Bing Crosby tunes playing on the radio or in a department store, getting us into the Christmas spirit. Despite being a well-known musician, actor, and comedian, Bing Crosby ended up becoming the king of the holiday season, with his holiday songs becoming classic hits. His most memorable holiday track is the ever so popular White Christmas.
Other than the unique talents that helped him shine in the entertainment industry, Crosby had his own set of challenges, scandal, and loss throughout his life. He enjoyed golf, had a loving family, and was named the most admired man in America. He appeared to be leading a happy life, but after his unfortunate death, his son came out with a book revealing the truth about the respected icon.
This is the tragic truth behind Bing Crosby’s incredible career.
A Star Is Born
Bing Crosby was welcomed into the world on May 3, 1903. He was born in Tacoma, Washington, in a house that his father built, but, in 1906, the family moved to a home in Spokane in Eastern Washington, and that’s where the future singer grew up. Like many other Hollywood stars, he took a stage name, Bing Crosby. His given name was actually Harris Lillis Crosby Jr.
But he took on the nickname “Bing” as he was growing up because his favorite childhood game was Cops and Robbers, and, apparently, every time he shot at someone while playing he would say “bing bing bing.” Most people get nicknamed in unusual ways, and this one certainly stuck.
Nickname Turned Stage Name
While Bing’s name is often attributed to the way he played Cops and Robbers, there is also another reason behind the singer’s nickname. Supposedly, one of his neighbors called young Crosby “Bingo from Bingville,” for the most random reason ever.
At the time, there was a comic in the local newspaper called “The Bingville Bugle.” Crosby’s neighbor just liked the name and decided to call little Crosby, Bing. I’m sure he didn’t realize it would stick this long, or that it would become his stage name as a famous singer.
The Most Admired Man
Crosby didn’t become a beloved singer based on his music alone. It was because of his positive, charismatic personality while approaching fans and life in general. He was also a kind-hearted man who supported a number of causes that he believed in. He made an impact on a large group of people, in addition to the fans of his music.
He was so well-liked back then that Yank magazine named him “the person who done the most to help the morale of overseas servicemen” during World War II. If that’s not enough to show you how respected he was, in 1948, American polls declared him the most admired man alive.
Crosby had many hit songs, but his most popular was White Christmas. In 1941, his version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was introduced on a radio broadcast on Christmas Day. After gaining recognition, the hit track was also featured in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn. The movie was a box office success and has since become a classic.
In October 1942, the record made it to the top of the charts, and the song remained number one for 11 weeks straight. The song was featured in another movie, 1946’s Blue Skies. Shortly after, White Christmas also appropriately became a significant part of the 1954 film White Christmas. The multi-talented star really knew how to release a song.
Child Number Four
Crosby grew up in a pretty big family. He had six siblings. His mother, Kate, was a second-generation Irish American, and his dad Harry was an English bookkeeper. Born in 1903, he was the fourth child in the family.
Bing had four brothers, Everett Nathaniel, Laurence Earl, Edward John, and George Robert, and two sisters, Mary Rose and Catherine Cordelia. As hectic as it sounds, it must have been fun to grow up with so many siblings. Crosby is also a descendent of Mayflower passenger, William Brewster, on his mother’s side.
A New Type of Music
Amongst his immense talent in several different areas, Crosby had a pioneering role in the field of music. He was the first to introduce “crooning” as an American singing style. Before Crosby became a famous musician dominating the charts, singers would use a “belting” style to allow their voices to extend across the entire concert hall.
Belting helped, especially when they didn’t have microphones. However, Bing preferred a different approach. His style was really smooth and much quieter, and it complemented his sentimental song lyrics. It didn’t take long for musicians all over the country to start crooning.
Can’t Have It All
Sadly, almost all artists who become extremely famous (at the scale that Crosby was on) need to sacrifice something in their lives. In Bing’s case, it was his marriage. In the 1930s, when his career was skyrocketing, and he was topping the charts, his marriage was crumbling behind the scenes.
As a famous celebrity, Crosby and his wife, Dixie Lee, would get invited to huge parties. Lee would drink way too much, and her alcoholism was getting out of control. During that time, Crosby considered separating from her. We’ll get to all the juicy details soon. Even the most beloved celebrities can’t have it all.
Before having a successful solo career on the radio, Bing was a part of a few bands. In 1923, he actually played in a high school band composed of teenage students who were much younger than he was. The group disbanded after two years, and Bing went on to work at the Clemmer Theatre.
But Crosby didn’t give up on his dreams. In 1925, he went to California with Al Rinker to try to break into showbiz and pursue a music career together. However, it was clear that Bing Crosby was born to shine as a solo singer. He finally got signed to a solo recording contract with Mack Sennet in 1931.
Climbing Up the Ladder
Despite becoming one of the most famous artists in America and around the world, it wasn’t easy to make it to the top. He started his career on the radio back in 1931, after nailing a 15-minute broadcast on air. It became a hit in just a matter of weeks and was a top song on the radio that year.
Hit talent was evident and not limited to music. By 1932, he was already cast in his first feature film, The Big Broadcast. With hard work, raw talent, and perseverance, his path to fame increased exponentially in the next two years. After that, he became a national star known for his craft as well as his kind heart.
Crosby tied the knot twice during his life. In 1930, he exchanged vows with Wilma Wyatt, a singer, and actress whose stage name was Dixie Lee. Ironically, at the time of her wedding, Lee was much more famous than Crosby. As we know, that quickly changed.
After spending only half a year together as a married couple, the pair split up. Both parties were unhappy, and Lee announced their separation. The news was a huge shock to the public because no one thought the marriage would end so soon. This was before short marriages were a trend in Hollywood. Way before Kim Kardashian’s infamous 72-day marriage.
Rumors and Reports
When the couple announced their breakup to the press, Lee stunned the public, even more, when she revealed that the reason for the divorce was “mental cruelty.” She was open about the split and expressed that despite their relationship status, Crosby was a great man. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t be happy married to him.
However, it wasn’t long before the couple dropped yet another bomb. Apparently, a week after announcing their separation, they reconciled. They sure knew how to take everyone by surprise. This was certainly a relationship with a lot of ups and downs. We’ve all had one of those.
Happy Ever After, After All
Just when fans thought they heard all the drama possible when it came to the couple’s messy relationship, they proclaimed that they wanted to give it another try. Supposedly, a mutual friend convinced Lee to call Crosby and talk things out and try to overcome their issues.
Right after the phone call, Crosby got on a plane to visit his almost ex-wife. They immediately reconciled. Once they were officially back together, Crosby and Lee had a joyous marriage and had four children together: Lindsay, Philip, Dennis, and Gary Crosby. Talk about a rollercoaster of a relationship.
A Very Merry Christmas
As we already mentioned, White Christmas is Crosby’s most popular song, without a doubt. Still, the singer produced other incredible hits that are worth mentioning. For example, in 1977, he partnered up with another famous singer you may have heard of, David Bowie. The two of them created a remarkable holiday special.
The special was titled Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, and the team was supposed to perform a song called The Little Drummer Boy together. But, Bowie wasn’t a fan of the song and asked to sing something else instead. Three writers put together Peace on Earth in less than an hour, a song that Bowie and Crosby sang beautifully together.
College Grad… Sort of…
After Crosby graduated from high school, he went on to continue his education and legacy at Gonzaga University. Despite not finishing his degree at Gonzaga, he did earn a well-deserved honorary degree in 1937. Gonzaga University continues to hold the largest archive of materials related to Bing Crosby’s life and career.
Obviously, the school is honored that such an established and talented star studied there. The archive mostly functions as a museum and contains over 200 artifacts related to Crosby. Wow! That’s really impressive. I mean, not many people have a museum dedicated to them.
Making a Change
Besides being an absolute icon in the entertainment industry, Crosby was a passionate supporter and defender of his Black performers working in Hollywood. We already know that the industry was unequal when it comes to race. Things are finally starting to change, but, at the time, racism was obvious.
Crosby was well-aware of the inequality and wanted to make a change. He was a huge fan and friend of Louis Armstrong. While he was working on his movie High Society, Crosby insisted that Armstrong be included. Things went according to plan, and it gave Armstrong for a jump-start in his career.
Supporting the Troops
Given his generous heart, it’s no surprise that Crosby was determined to make some sort of contribution during World War II. To support the troops, he made numerous live appearances across Europe for them. At the same time, he was part of propaganda broadcasts that were intended to reach German soldiers.
He even managed to learn the German language, which earned Bing the nickname “Der Bingle” with German troops. We mentioned how the singer was known for doing the most for the troops’ morale, even more than the president of the United States at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It really shows how powerful music can be.
Crosby was a big overachiever and knew that he was going to accomplish a lot throughout his career. One of these accomplishments was related to the hit track White Christmas which is still the number one best-selling single in the history of music. It’s been decades, and no one has beaten him yet.
Even though the single was way more popular back then, it is still frequently played during the Christmas season. The song was originally written by Irving Berlin and released in 1941. However, in 1947, Crosby was basically forced to record it again because of his popularity. It was the right decision considering his version of the song was a massive success.
A Possible Duo
Bing Crosby worked alongside Bob Hope several times. The duo appeared in more than 25 films together. Despite never referring to themselves as an official duo, they were definitely known as a team in Hollywood. They simply created incredible work together.
At a certain point, Crosby and Hope became rivals with other entertainment legends like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and even Laurel and Hardy, who were formal duos in the industry. Some of their most notable works together were the seven “road” films, which were released between 1940 and 1962.
In the seven “road” musical comedies, the pair worked alongside Dorothy Lamour, which sparked the idea that the duo was possibly a trio, after all. The series featured Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942). After a short break, Road to Utopia was released in 1946.
That wasn’t all. After that, there were Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and the last of the series was The Road to Hong Kong (1962). Each film is its own satire comedy, and the triple team were working on an eighth one when it was tragically interrupted by Bing Crosby’s death in 1977.
Too Cool for School
When Bing decided to drop out of college, many people thought his decision was the wrong one, but Bing was determined to prove to everyone that he knew exactly what he was doing. It didn’t take him long to show the world that he didn’t need a college degree to succeed. His talent spoke for itself.
After dropping out of school in the early 1920s, he sang in several different groups on his way to the top. He got to perform with famous jazz musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and the Dorsey Brothers in New York on his way of becoming a true Hollywood icon.
Weed but No Booze
It’s a well-known fact that Bing Crosby was pretty progressive when it came to smoking marijuana. In a 1977 interview, he shared his opinion that the plant should be legalized. He was way ahead of his time since weed had a negative connotation back then. These days it’s becoming more and more accepted.
On the other hand, he had a much different opinion about alcohol. He reportedly suffered from a drinking problem in his younger years, which got him kicked out of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra. He even stated that he believed alcohol was a killer. At least he learned from his past mistakes.
Through Sickness and Health
After his strange 6-month separation ordeal with his wife Lee, Crosby seemed to have a rather pleasant family life. Like any other marriage, they had their ups and downs, but they seemed to have built a stable home for their children to grow up in. Unfortunately, their happy ending didn’t last forever.
Lee started experiencing some health problems, and it made things hard for the couple. Still, Crosby was extremely supportive and stayed by his wife’s side the entire time. Then, in 1945, Lee suddenly collapsed and was taken to the hospital where she and her concerned husband got some difficult news.
Until Death Do Us Part
Sadly, Lee was diagnosed with a respiratory infection. The tabloids took her vulnerable situation and had a field day with it. They made up stories that she was hospitalized due to overdosing on sleeping pills. The media was pretty evil and didn’t take it easy on the sick actress. In 1951, more speculations surfaced, claiming that the couple was living separately.
However, those rumors were quickly shot down when they proved that they were both living in their Holmby Hills District home in Los Angeles. Despite their claims, it appears that they had been living separately for a little while. But they were quickly reunited, and there was a really good reason for it.
Lee was extremely ill. Aside from her respiratory infection, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It didn’t take long for the disease to take over her body and kill her at the young age of 42. Bing Crosby was now a widower raising his four teenage children on his own. Naturally, it took the family a while to adjust.
After his wife passed away, Crosby decided to take some time off and spent the next few years living his best life as a single man. He dated various women in the industry, including Hollywood icons like Inger Stevens and Grace Kelly, the future Princess of Monaco. That’s not bad for a single dad!
Going My Way
In 1944, Crosby reached another milestone in his already impressive career. He won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Going My Way. This guy proved he was more than just a gifted singer. He was a renowned Hollywood actor, and finally got the recognition he deserved. His acting skills continued to get acknowledged.
The following year, he was nominated for another Oscar for his portrayal in the film’s sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s. He starred alongside Ingrid Bergman and was the first of six actors in Hollywood history to be nominated twice for their performance of the same character. He certainly deserved it.
A Multi-Talented Star
Throughout his entire career, Crosby was regularly criticized in the tabloids, especially in the 1950s. He finally got the chance to prove his talent when he starred in the hit drama The Country Girl. His performance was remarkable. Critics could say whatever they wanted, but nothing mattered. At this point, Bing’s talent was undeniable.
In the film, he ironically portrayed an alcoholic entertainer who ended up earning an award nomination. Crosby went on to win another award in 1963. This time, it was a prestigious Grammy Global Achievement Award. He reminded the world that not only was he an incredible performer, but he was still a talented singer.
As you probably guessed, Crosby’s performance in The Country Girl hit a little too close to home for the superstar, at least according to the tabloids. Rumors surrounding Crosby’s recurrent alcohol problem kept resurfacing. The public truly believed that he lost roles and jobs to his addiction to alcohol.
Despite what the press wrote about him, his relapse with alcohol was never proven. In fact, he was always advocating against it. One of his biographers reported that Crosby allegedly told his son that alcohol is what killed his mother and that he should always avoid it. If he was teaching this to his children, I assume he wasn’t drinking to set a good example.
Exchanging Vows, Again
Obviously, the death of his wife was really difficult for Crosby to deal with. But he seemed to have some good years as a bachelor. After five years, love-struck him once again. He fell in love with beautiful actress Kathryn Grant. The couple walked down the aisle and seemed to have been happy with one another.
Grant and Crosby stayed together up until the day he died. They had three children together: Nathaniel, Mary, and Harry Lillis III. Crosby now had seven children, the same amount of kids that his parents had back in the day.
Passion for Golf
No matter how busy Bing Crosby was with his career, he always made time for his hobbies. His favorite was golf. The singer had memberships to over 75 different golf clubs across the country so that he could play whenever he wanted to. Membership for that many clubs doesn’t come cheap, but that wasn’t an issue for Crosby.
He enjoyed golf so much that he allegedly switched to pre-recorded productions so that he would have more time for the sport. The singer went on to prove that golf was a priority in his life. In fact, Crosby was offered the role of Columbo, a popular 1970’s detective series, but he rejected the offer. The reason? The pilot was set to film on the same day as a golf tournament he signed up for.
Crosby went through a truly terrible time in March of 1977. It was his 50th year in showbiz, so a filmed concert was organized to celebrate his impressive career. He gave an incredible performance, as usual. But as soon as he finished, the singer got into a little accident.
He slipped off of the stage into the orchestra pit, and it wasn’t pretty. Bob Hope, the star’s good friend and creative partner witnessed the fall and felt totally helpless. Crosby had a long road to recovery in front of him. Sure, performers fall off the stage all the time, but unfortunately, Crosby’s age made the injury even tougher to come back from.
His Final Show
Bing Crosby took his time to recover and was finally well enough for what would be his last US concert. The day of his last US concert was on August 16, 1977. That’s eerily the exact same day that Elvis Presley passed away. Crosby and his whole family joined singer Rosemary Clooney on a Britain tour that September.
During his time in the UK, Crosby performed at the London Palladium, and he managed to record Seasons, his last ever album. He also had time to film his last TV Christmas special alongside special guest David Bowie.
The Day He Died
Four days after his last performance, Crosby passed away from a heart attack. The news left a huge hole in Hollywood and in the hearts of his fans. He was actually on his way home from a golf game in Madrid, Spain. He was buried in California at the Holy Cross Cemetery.
But, since he died in Spain, a commemoration plaque was erected for the singing icon at the golf course he had played at right before his fatal heart attack. His last Christmas special (that was recorded with David Bowie) was aired a month after his tragic passing.
Legend Lives On
Losing such an incredible icon was sad for Bing Cosby’s fans. His family was comforted by the fact that so many people looked up to and were inspired by him. They were also glad that he spent his last day on earth doing one the things he loved most, playing golf. At least he got to enjoy his favorite sport one last time.
Reportedly, his last words were, “That’s was a great game of golf, fellas. Let’s get a Coke.” According to good friends and fellow players, Crosby was in good spirits throughout the day. He even made time to take pictures and sign autographs for the last time. It’s good to know that he enjoyed his last day on earth.
A Son’s Betrayal
Gary Crosby is one of Bing’s sons from his first marriage to Lee. After his father’s death, Gary published a book about his troubled relationship with his father. The book did not paint the icon in a pretty light. He wrote a compilation of harsh moments and terrible accusations.
Gary called the book Going My Own Way, and shared details of life with his father. He made the legendary star look cruel, distant, and abusive towards his children. Obviously, I cannot confirm or deny these claims, but it’s safe to say that the book would have scarred Crosby immensely if he had been alive to read it.
One of the main claims Gary made about his father in the book was that he was critical of his weight. Allegedly, the singer would occasionally beat his son with a metal belt if he didn’t reach the weekly weight goal that Bing imposed on him. He also claimed that his father called him names like, “My Fat-Assed Kid” and Bucket Butt.”
Gary didn’t stop there; he went on to explain that his father said these things to him to destroy his life. He also accused his dad of beating him to the point where he started bleeding. Yikes! If these claims are true, then there were a whole different set of family issues. However, there are two sides to every story.
When Gary came out with his book, he felt like he was telling his truth. But his brother Philip Crosby quickly came his father’s defense. After reading the terrible things Gary wrote about their dad, Philip came out and said that Gary was exaggerating and over-reacting, like the “cry baby” he always was.
Even though Philip denied most of Gary’s allegations, he did reveal that Bing sometimes did use corporal punishment on his children, although never even close to the extent that Gary claimed. He also went on to say that the punishment was usually warranted. I guess we’ll never know the truth.
Philip wasn’t backing down when it came to defending his father. He continues to claim that Bing was not the monster that Gary was making him out to be. The brothers remained in bad terms, and Philip said even harsher things about his brother as time went on.
He called Gary a liar, talentless, ugly, and a greedy person. Philip strongly believes that Gary was only interested in the fortune that came with their late father’s fame. He also thought that money was the reason behind writing that book. He hated his brother until the day that he died for humiliating their iconic father.
Lives on During Christmas
Unfortunately, the aftermath of Bing Crosby’s death wasn’t the most positive, particularly when it came to his children. But, despite all the rivalry, Bing Crosby was undeniably one of the most influential and beloved artists of his time. There aren’t many people who have such natural talent when it comes to every aspect of showbiz.
Bing continued to show love and perseverance and appreciation by working up until his final days. The superstar spent time with family and made time for golf no matter how hectic his schedule got. He will forever be remembered, but especially during the holiday season through his immortal holiday classics.