The day I tried LSD - by Andy Williams
As the king of easy-listening music he revelled in a refreshingly wholesome image during the drug-addled Sixties.
Yet in a fascinating – and movingly honest – new autobiography, Andy Williams, now 81, makes a confession that will stun his millions of admirers...
The Sixties brought me some of the happiest times of my life – three beautiful children, a smash-hit TV show, sell-out concerts and gold albums – but they ended in sadness when I split from my wife Claudine.
The turmoil of our break-up led me down a shocking and unexpected path, especially for someone seen as a wholesome, all-American entertainer. I experimented with LSD.
I first met Claudine Longet in 1961 when I was performing in Las Vegas. By that time I was appearing regularly on TV and had a number of hit singles, including a No1, Butterfly.
Claudine was 19 and appearing at a Folies Bergere show. She didn’t speak English and my French was useless, but we were able to communicate enough to date for the entire time I was in Vegas. After my stint finished, I followed Claudine back to Paris, where I proposed. Her English must have improved because it took her just a fraction of a second to say yes.
We married in December 1961 and two years later our daughter Noelle was born. We went on to have two more children – Christian was born in 1964 and Bobby arrived in 1969.
That same year, I returned home after being away on tour for two weeks. As I poured Claudine and me a glass of wine each, she told me we needed to talk.
‘I can’t go on living like this,’ she said. ‘The kids and I hardly ever see you and when we do, you’re preoccupied, or on the phone with your manager, or the studios. And...’ She paused for a moment. ‘And things aren’t the same between us.’
She was right.
The thrill I used to get when I saw her walking towards me had faded. The private, intimate looks we used to exchange were less frequent, but until that moment I had not understood how far down that path we had travelled. Claudine had fallen out of love with me.
We knew what we were losing, but we couldn’t undo what had already been done. I think it broke our hearts, but in the end we agreed to split.
My marriage was over and I had to live with the knowledge that I bore responsibility for that. The decision made, there seemed no point in delaying so I packed a bag and moved out.
Being on tour was a way of hiding from my problems for a while, but they were still waiting for me when I returned. Whether because of the parting from Claudine or for other, less tangible reasons, my life was in turmoil.
I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t happier with my life. Why wasn’t I feeling well physically? I decided to get a full examination at the Scripps Clinic near San Diego, California.*
The last person I saw there was the psychiatrist. It was a surreal moment as I lay on the black leather couch in his book-lined consulting room, while he sat behind me in a straight-backed chair with a notebook on his knee.
It was such a cliched scene – I had seen it in films a hundred times. It was all I could do not to laugh, even though my reason for being there was entirely serious.
After I told him my life story, he said: ‘You might be helped by taking LSD treatments.
You could see a shrink for years trying to find out why you’re not happy, but with LSD you might do that in just a few sessions.’
LSD was at the time seen as a miracle drug, although doubts about it were beginning to surface, as Timothy Leary’s ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ rhetoric drew unfavourable Press.
I persuaded Claudine to try LSD with me. I wonder now if I had really accepted we had split up for good or whether I clung to the hope that somehow it might be all right again.
In fact, by the time the first session was set up, the Scripps Clinic had bowed to pressure and ceased doing LSD treatment. Instead, I flew alone to Canada and stayed for a couple of weeks at a clinic while a doctor named Ross MacLean administered LSD and another hallucinogenic drug, mescaline, to me in different doses and supervised my trips.
The session took place in an antiseptic-looking room, watched over by Dr MacLean and his assistants.
The LSD was in liquid form, dripped on to a sugar cube or a tiny square of blotting paper. It was odourless, colourless and tasteless.
The mescaline was solid and had a bitter, musty taste – the first time I took it, I was sick. For my first LSD experience, nothing seemed to be happening at first.
‘I don’t think it’s working,’ I told Dr MacLean. He smiled and said: ‘Give it time.’
Then things did start to happen – shapes began shifting and changing, while colours and sounds intensified. I became absorbed in one object or sensation, totally unaware of anything else around me, but then I’d snap back to reality, spiralling in and out of awareness of my surroundings. I fought it at first, feeling a wave of panic at the loss of self-control, but as the drug took hold I relaxed and was engulfed.
Hours later, when I began to come down again, I could not have told you if minutes, hours or even days had passed. Dr MacLean gave me different visual stimuli and played different kinds of music, from soft and sensual sounds to marching bands, and noted my reactions.
I experienced the things that most people did when taking psychedelic drugs – the intensely heightened senses, the beauty of colours and sounds, the contrasting phases of feeling. One moment, I would feel like I was a lord of the cosmos, the next I would be focused on a microscopic detail – a coloured thread fluttering in the breeze, or specks of dust hanging in the air.
LSD gave me powerful feelings of euphoria – some sex-related – but also a sense of fear and despair. During one session I was even born again – not in the evangelical sense, but in believing I was experiencing the very painful physical sensations of birth.
I’m not sure if LSD did me any good, but one thing did come out of my stay at the clinic.
It was probably the first time in years I had taken a few days away from my career.
Between the LSD sessions in Canada I had time to reflect on the direction my life had been taking and to examine my priorities. I came to realise my children and my relationship with my family were the things that really counted.
Sadly, that realisation had come too late to save my marriage; it was fractured beyond repair. That had been my fault and I had to face up to life without Claudine. Although we separated, there was no personal animosity between us, just sadness that our relationship had come to an end. Even after we divorced in 1975, we remained on good terms. It was such an amicable divorce that we used the same lawyer to represent us.
As part of the settlement, Claudine kept our beachfront house in Malibu. Despite what had happened, I was determined to remain a good friend to her, if she ever needed me, and to be a good father to our children.
I tried to fit family life around my work as much as possible and sometimes I took the children on tour with me, but they also had to deal with the drawbacks of being children of a celebrity.
Noelle once said: ‘I loved being with you, Papa, and always wanted to be with you. The only problem was that everybody else in the world did, too.’
In one way the break-up of my marriage may have been less traumatic for my children than for other kids. I had been away on tour so often they were already pretty much living just with Claudine and seeing me only at weekends and holidays, an arrangement that continued in much the same way after we split.
Years later, my son Bobby admitted that for years he hadn’t realised his mother and I were divorced. In my less self-aware moments, I might almost have taken that as a compliment. But what it really revealed was how distant I must have been in the years before we separated.
It has been said that the only inscription you never see in a graveyard is ‘Wish I’d spent more time at the office’, and my greatest regret is that I didn’t spend more time with my children when they were young.
Despite growing up with every material advantage, my children haven’t become spoiled, rich kids, celebrity fodder for trashy magazines. They are grounded, normal people.
For that, Claudine must take the lion’s share of the credit.
Why I had to say No to Frank Sinatra’s wife
Frank Sinatra and I were neighbours for a while when he was married to Mia Farrow.
My relationship with him was good, although it is doubtful things would have stayed that way if he had seen an incident with Mia one night.
I was having a drink at a popular nightclub, when Mia walked over and said: ‘Andy, do you want to dance?’
As soon as we started dancing, she put her arms around my neck. Fooling around with Frank’s wife on a crowded dancefloor wasn’t a smart move and I tried to ease away, saying: ‘Mia, this really isn’t a good idea.’ She laughed.
A few seconds later, two of Mia’s friends came over, disentangled her from my neck, and said: ‘Come on, Mia. Time to go home.’
Sinatra could be a loyal friend, but he had a vindictive side.
I saw that one evening when I was having dinner in Palm Springs with Frank and about eight other friends, including the actress Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton.
Frank seemed relaxed, wise-cracking, until a drunk accidentally spilled red wine over Morton’s suede jacket. Frank’s mood changed instantly. Although the drunk offered to pay for cleaning the jacket, Sinatra fixed him with a look that would have frozen a martini.
He then muttered something to his bodyguard Jilly, who took the guy outside and broke his nose.
It was a mystery to me how someone like Sinatra, who could sing with heart-melting tenderness, could act with such cold cruelty.
So poor and hungry I ate my dog’s food
I was just five when my three elder brothers and I first sang in public. Our father Jay was our driving force and moved the family from Iowa to Los Angeles to get us work, leading to radio shows and a contract with MGM.
But it was Kay Thompson, a singer, dancer, pianist and comedian, who persuaded us to become a nightclub act, cutting Dad out of the picture.
The Williams Brothers went on to be highly successful, but by 1953 we had split and I moved to New York to work on my solo act with Kay. I had always harboured a huge crush for Kay, despite her being 19 years my senior, and soon our work together became more than strictly business.
A new career was not going to be easy. After the adulation I had enjoyed in the Williams Brothers, my early appearances as a solo singer were a brutal comedown.
I was earning so little on tour that I couldn’t afford to have my tuxedo pressed, so I made it a rule never to sit down in it.
The low point came in an unsavoury hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, where cockroaches could be heard scuttling across the floor.
I didn’t have two cents in my pocket, had not eaten all day and only had my dog Barnaby for company. That evening I gave Barnaby his dog food – big chunks of horsemeat and gravy. I was so hungry and it smelled so good that I ate a whole plateful.
Fortunately after that low point, I got a slot on NBC and a deal with a small record label. In 1957, Butterfly went to No1.
Moon River was recorded in more or less one take in 1962, as the time booked in the studio was running out. I never released it as a single, but it has become the song with which I’m always identified.
By ANDY WILLIAMS