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Another passing

My parents Chester and Peggy suggested I share with readers a wire obituary because they definitely found it of interest.

They were surprised when I told them of the death of Joe Feeney, the Irish-American tenor who shot to fame as a singer discovered by Lawrence Welk.

He died of emphysema at age 76 on April 16 at a hospice in Carlsbad, Calif., according to his son Tim Feeney.

"Dad never smoked a day in his life," his son told the Associated Press for its published wire obituary.

"We believe he may have contracted the illness from decades of performing in smoky casinos and nightclubs."

Feeney was one of the family of stars on "The Lawrence Welk Show" from 1957 to 1982 and most famous for his rendition of "Danny Boy."

He was born and raised in Nebraska and won several singing competitions at the University of Nebraska where he was also a starting quarterback.

In 1955, television personality Arlene Francis gave Feeney a chance to perform on her popular show "Talent Patrol."

At the urging of family and friends, he sent a tape of his singing to Welk in 1956, which not only captured the attention of the maestro, but also his wife, Fern Welk.

When Fern died in 2002, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday (and more than a decade after her famous band-leading husband), I remember her wire tributes crediting her with encouraging Feeney's career on her husband's show.

Aside from his time in the television spotlight, Feeney and his first wife Georgia Lee had 10 children and he achieved considerable notoriety from his live performances.

He performed at venues ranging from Disneyland to Carnegie Hall and gave concerts for five U.S. presidents at the White House and even performed for Pope Paul VI in 1975.

His final performance was a Christmas concert last December in Syracuse, N.Y. Most recently, he had been performing as part of a duo act with his fellow tenor son Chris Feeney, who was also seen on a few of the final "Lawrence Welk Show" episodes in the early 1980s. Feeney and son Chris, along with The Lennon Sisters and pianist Jo Ann Castle, were all regulars at The Lawrence Welk Theater, a popular destination in Branson, Mo.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4327.

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