Roger Williams, the top charting virtuoso pianist who played for nine U.S. presidents during his long career, died Saturday at the age of 87. Mr. Williams passed at his home in Los Angeles of complications from pancreatic cancer, according to his former publicist Rob Wilcox.
Well known as an electrifying stage performer and an adept improviser, Mr. Williams effortlessly excelled at a range of musical styles.
Mr. Williams’ 1955 hit “Autumn Leaves” catapulted him to national renown and was the only piano instrumental to reach No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts. It remains the best-selling piano record of all time, with more than 2 million sold. Roger Williams followed “Autumn Leaves” up with a string of hits including “Born Free,” “The Impossible Dream,” “Theme From Somewhere In Time,” and “Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago.”
Nicknamed the “pianist to the presidents”, Mr. Williams played for every commander in chief from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush. The talented pianist became a popular guest on the top television shows of the time including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Perry Como Show” and “The Steve Allen Show.” He is the first pianist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Williams also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Steinway & Sons.
In March, Roger Williams announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his daughters, Laura Fisher and Alice Jung, and five grandchildren.