Roger Williams, whose music has served as the soundtrack to the lives of at least three generations, died Oct. 8 at his Los Angeles home of complications from pancreatic cancer. Williams was to have performed at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons on December 4, but that event is now cancelled.
“Roger Williams was of legendary status and a master pianist, so we were naturally thrilled that he had agreed to appear in our community,” said Adam Philipson, managing director of the Performing Arts Center. “Our condolences are with his family, band members and fans.”
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Williams, the first pianist to have been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, produced 21 gold and platinum albums.
He burst upon the music scene in 1955 with “Autumn Leaves,” an American classic that stands as the greatest-selling piano recording of all time. He followed that with million-selling records such as “Born Free,” “Impossible Dream,” “Till,” “Near You,” “Almost Paradise,” “Two Different Worlds,” “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago,” and the theme from “Somewhere in Time.”
Williams was, as Reader’s Digest put it, “undeniably one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.”
He was born Louis Weertz in Omaha, Neb., on Oct. 1, 1924, and he began playing the piano at the age of 3. While a student at the Julliard School of Music, he won “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” on television and scored a recording contract with Kapp Records, which insisted that he “have a name that would stand up anywhere.” Louis Weertz became Roger Williams, so named after the founder of Rhode Island.
Williams performed at every major venue with nearly every major symphony orchestra, including Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the White House, having performed for nine U.S. presidents. He also was a main attraction in Las Vegas for years, headlining at the MGM-Grand and the Tropicana.
Those who purchased tickets for Williams’ Dec. 4 show may exchange their tickets for one of the remaining shows in the 2011-12 season; obtain a gift certificate valid toward any future COC Presents or Arts on Campus event; or receive a refund of the ticket purchase. Ticket-holders are asked to call the Box Office at (661) 362-5304.