October 14, 2009 / 4:43 AM / 9 years ago

Singer Al Martino dies at 82

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Al Martino, a crooner who had several pop hits spanning more than 20 years and played Johnny Fontane in the 1970s “Godfather” movies, died Tuesday at his childhood home in Springfield, Pa. He was 82.

He was born Alfred Cini on October 7, 1927, in South Philadelphia. Encouraged by his boyhood friend Mario Lanza, Martino began his singing career in the late 1940s. His single “Here in My Heart” hit No. 1 in the U.K. in 1952 and stayed on top for a record nine weeks. He performed for Queen Elizabeth at the London Palladium that year. Martino’s publicist, Sandy Friedman, said the singer planned to return for an anniversary performance at the Palladium next year.

Martino had a run of chart singles through 1953, but his career stalled with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. He caught fire again in 1963 with the Top 5 hit “I Love You Because.” It was the first of six consecutive top 40 singles in less than two years, including “I Love You More and More Every Day,” which peaked at No. 9 in 1964.

The string of hits propelled a pair of Martino’s albums — “I Love You Because” and “Painted, Tainted Rose” — into the top 10 in 1963. He also scored a top-10 disc with “A Merry Christmas,” which made Billboard’s holiday chart for four consecutive years. His last top 10 album was “Spanish Eyes” in 1966, his only certified gold record.

The Italian-American Martino continued to hit the pop charts through the mid-‘70s, reaching the top 20 with “To the Door of the Sun (Alle Porte del Sole)” in 1974. But a new audience got to know him as the coddled — and connected — heartthrob singer and would-be actor Johnny Fontane, godson of Don Vito Corleone, in the best picture Oscar winners “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather Part II” (1974). He sang “I Have but One Heart (O Marenariello)” during the first film’s wedding scene and on its score album “The Love Theme From ‘The Godfather.’”

A longtime resident of Beverly Hills, Martino is survived by his wife, Judi; a daughter, Allison; a son, Alfred; a brother, Frank; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services are pending.

Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters

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