Ed Ames, the youngest member of the popular 1950s singing group the Ames Brothers, who later became a successful actor in television and musical theater, has died. He was 95.
The last survivor of the four singing brothers, Ames died May 21 from Alzheimer’s disease, his wife, Jeanne Ames, said Saturday.
“He had a wonderful life,” she said.
On television, Ames was likely best known for his role as Mingo, the Oxford-educated Native American in the 1960s adventure series “Daniel Boone” that starred Fess Parker as the famous frontiersman. He also was the center of a bit on “The Tonight Show” that — thanks to his painfully uncanny aim with a hatchet — became one of the show’s most memorable surprise moments.
Ames had guest roles in TV series such as “Murder, She Wrote” and “In the Heat of the Night,” and toured frequently in musicals, performing such popular songs as “Try to Remember” and the song that became his biggest hit single, “My Cup Runneth Over.”
As part of the 1950s music scene, he and his brothers were one of numerous pop quartets that included the Four Aces, Four Lads, Gaylords, Hilltoppers, Lancers, Four Knights, Ink Spots and, still around from a previous era, the Mills Brothers. But the Ames Brothers — Ed, Joe, Gene and Vic — had a unique tone: they were basses and baritones, not tenors.
Their recordings of “Rag Mop,” “Sentimental Me” and “Undecided” became big hits, and they launched a busy career appearing on TV variety shows, recording 40 albums and playing in night clubs and auditoriums across the country.
By the end of the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll had overtaken the pop charts and singing quartets were on the decline. The Ameses, meanwhile, had tired of the constant travel and absence from their growing families. The finale for Ed came when he arrived home unexpectedly and his wife called to their 3-year-old daughter: “Who is it?” The girl replied, “One of the Ames Brothers.”
“That did it,” he told a reporter. “My brothers and I agreed that we had all had it and should go our separate ways.” The group, which was earning $20,000 a week, played its last engagement at the Sahara in Las Vegas on New Year’s 1961.
Ed’s efforts to establish himself as a solo singer were not immediately successful and he turned to acting. He almost lost his house before he found a role in a production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
In the long-running musical “The Fantasticks,” he sang “Try to Remember,” which became one of his theme songs. He joined the traveling company of Gower Champion’s “Carnival” and transferred to the New York company until the show’s final performance.
In a role that presaged his future role on “Daniel Boone,” he then won attention as the stoic Native American in the 1963 Broadway play “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder in the adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel.
Ames earned top money at Las Vegas casinos and in hotel supper clubs and toured extensively in the musicals “Man of La Mancha,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “South Pacific” and “I Do, I Do.”
“I Do, I Do” provided his biggest hit single, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a gold record winner in 1967. He had another hit in 1968 with “Who Will Answer?”
It was during his run on “Daniel Boone” that he contributed to what was called the longest sustained burst of laughter in the history of “The Tonight Show.”
For a 1965 episode he was persuaded to demonstrate the hatchet-throwing skills he learned as Mingo. The silhouette of a cowboy was painted on a piece of wood, and Ames threw a hatchet at the target. It landed on squarely on the cowboy’s crotch.
Ames was born Edmund Dantes Urick in Malden, Massachusetts, the youngest of 11 children, four who died in childhood. Their parents were Ukrainian immigrants and their mother taught the children to read Shakespeare and to appreciate music they heard every Saturday on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
The four youngest boys began singing at local events as the Urick Brothers. Ed was still in high school when they moved to night clubs, but as a husky six-footer with a deep voice, he was able to pass for 21.
In New York, comedy writer Abe Burrows advised a name change because Urick was hard to remember. Ames was the brothers’ choice.
After the four brothers split up, the other brothers also continued performing and recording, but gained less notice than Ed. Vic died in 1978, Gene in 1997 and Joe in December 2007.
Ames and his first wife, Sara Cacheiro, had three children: Sonja, Ronald and Linda. The couple divorced in 1978, and in 1998 he married Jeanne Arnold.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas was a contributor to this report from Los Angeles.