Robert Gerard Goulet (November 26, 1933 – October 30, 2007) was an American singer and actor of French Canadian ancestry. He originated the role of Lancelot in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot and made numerous appearances in Las Vegas.
Goulet was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the only son of Jeanette (née Gauthier) and Joseph Georges André Goulet, a laborer. His parents were both of French Canadian ancestry. He was a descendant of French-Canadian pioneers Zacharie Cloutier and Jacques Goulet. Shortly after his father's death, 13-year-old Robert moved with his mother and sister Claire to Girouxville, Alberta, and he spent his formative years in Canada.
Due to the Canadian citizenship law at the time, Goulet was not awarded Canadian citizenship despite his Canadian parents, making him a Lost Canadian. A 2008 law would have allowed him to retroactively be granted citizenship, but he died before it was received.
After living in Girouxville, Alberta, for several years, they moved to the provincial capital of Edmonton to take advantage of the performance opportunities offered in the city. There, he attended the famous voice schools founded by Herbert G. Turner and Jean Letourneau, and later became a radio announcer for radio station CKUA. Upon graduating from Victoria Composite high school, Goulet received a scholarship to The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. There, he studied voice with famed oratorio baritones, George Lambert and Ernesto Vinci.
In 1952, he competed in CBC Television's Pick The Stars, ultimately making the semifinals. This led to other network appearances on shows like Singing Stars of Tomorrow, Opportunity Knocks, and the Canadian version of Howdy Doody in which he starred opposite William Shatner.
Rise to stardom
In 1959, Goulet was introduced to librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, who were having difficulty casting the role of Lancelot in their stage production Camelot. Lerner and Loewe, impressed by Goulet's talent, signed the virtual newcomer to play the part, opposite Richard Burton (King Arthur) and Julie Andrews (Queen Guenevere).
Camelot opened in Toronto in October 1960. It then played a four-week engagement in Boston, and finally opened on Broadway two months later. Goulet received favorable reviews, most notably for his show-stopping romantic ballad, "If Ever I Would Leave You" which would become his signature song. After the run of Camelot, Goulet appeared on The Danny Thomas Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, which made him a household name among American audiences. On December 7, 1962, Goulet made an appearance on The Jack Paar Show with Judy Garland to promote their animated film, Gay Puree. He also would win a Grammy Award as Best New Artist in 1962.
On May 25, 1965, Goulet mangled the lyrics to the United States National Anthem at the opening of the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship fight in Lewiston, Maine. Goulet had never sung the anthem in public before, and replaced the lyric "dawn's early light" with "dawn's early night." The gaffe was reported in newspapers nationwide the next morning, and Goulet was criticized in opinion columns for a lack of knowledge of the lyrics. Goulet also had his biggest pop hit in this year, when his single "My Love, Forgive Me" reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1968, Goulet was on Broadway in the Kander and Ebb musical The Happy Time and won a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical for his role. In 2005, he starred in the Broadway revival of Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles. Goulet began a recording career with Columbia Records in 1962, which resulted in more than 40 best selling albums.
He also toured in several musicals, including Camelot as Sir Lancelot, Man of La Mancha, Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, where he portrayed Billy Bigelow, a role he also played in 1967 in a made-for-television adaptation of the musical. This version aired only a year after the first telecast of the 1956 film version on ABC.
He also starred in a 1966 television version of Brigadoon, which won several Emmy Awards), and Kiss Me Kate in 1968, opposite his then-wife Carol Lawrence. All three were produced by Goulet's company Rogo Productions and aired on ABC, but none have been rebroadcast since the 1960s or released on video. All three were recorded on videotape rather than film.
Goulet guest starred on The Lucy Show in 1967 as himself and two additional characters who entered a Robert Goulet look-alike contest. In 1972, he played a lead villain in the season finale of TV's original Mission: Impossible. Goulet was featured in a two-part episode of the TV series Alice during the 1981 season, again playing himself. The plot involves Mel and the girls winning a free trip to Las Vegas, and while there, losing his diner in a gambling spree. Alice plans to impersonate Goulet in an effort to persuade the casino owner to return the diner to Mel. The real Goulet appears and sings a duet with the (much shorter) fake Robert Goulet portrayed by Alice.
Goulet's first film performance was released in 1962: the UPA (United Productions of America) animated musical feature Gay Purr-ee, in which he provided the voice of the male lead character, 'Jaune Tom,' opposite the female lead character, 'Mewsette,' voiced by Judy Garland. His first non-singing role was in Honeymoon Hotel (1964), but it was not until a cameo appearance as a singer in Louis Malle's film, Atlantic City (1980) that Goulet was given critical acclaim. He recorded the song "Atlantic City (My Old Friend)" for Applause Records in 1981.
In 1988, he was cast by Tim Burton as a houseguest blown through the roof by Beetlejuice and also played himself in Bill Murray's Scrooged (both 1988). He performed the Canadian national anthem to open "WrestleMania VI" at Skydome in Toronto, Ontario in 1990. Goulet also made several appearances on the ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere during its five-year run.
In 1991, Goulet starred, with John Putch and Hillary Bailey Smith, in the unsold television series pilot Acting Sheriff. That same year, he appeared as Quentin Hapsburg, opposite Leslie Nielsen, in the comedy film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear. This followed a cameo in the 1982 TV series Police Squad!. In the episode "The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)," as "Special Guest Star," he died by firing squad during the opening credits. The television series spawned The Naked Gun film series.
In 1992, Goulet made an uncredited appearance as the piano player who suffers agonizing injuries in the "Weird Al" Yankovic video for "You Don't Love Me Anymore". That same year, Goulet guest-starred as country music singer Eddie Larren in an episode of the TV series In the Heat of the Night, "When the Music Stopped."
He starred as King Arthur in "Camelot" in a 1992 national tour and returned to Broadway in 1993 with the same production. In 1993, he played himself in the The Simpsons episode "$pringfield." In that episode, Bart Simpson booked him into his own casino (actually Bart's treehouse), where he sang "Jingle Bells (Batman Smells)."
In 1996, he appeared in Ellen DeGeneres' first starring vehicle, Mr. Wrong, as an insecure TV host and returned to Broadway again in Moon Over Buffalo co-starring Lynn Redgrave. He provided the singing voice of Wheezy the penguin in the Vegas-style finale of the 1999 Pixar film, Toy Story 2; singing a new version of You've Got a Friend in Me. In 2000, he played himself on two episodes of the Robert Smigel series TV Funhouse; as a sort-of mentor to the show's animal puppet troupe, he was the only character who had the respect of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Goulet also appeared in the Disney animated series Recess, as the singing voice for Mikey Blumberg, and in the film Recess: School's Out.
His last public performance came on the PBS televised special, My Music: 50's Pop Parade, broadcast on August 1, 2007, in which he sang "Sunrise, Sunset" and "If Ever I Would Leave You."
In 1978, he sang "You Light Up My Life" at the Miss Universe Pageant to the five finalists. Goulet played Don Quixote in the 1997—98 U.S. national tour of Man of La Mancha and recorded the theme song for the talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003. He was featured in an Emerald Nuts advertising campaign in 2006, starring in a television commercial that debuted during Super Bowl XL and maintained a consistent presence up until his death. In 2006, he appeared in an episode ("Sold'y Locks") of The King of Queens as himself.
Goulet and his first wife Louise Longmore had one daughter, Nicolette (died April 17, 2008).
He had two sons, Christopher and Michael by his second wife, actress/singer Carol Lawrence.
In 1982, he married artist/writer Vera Novak in Las Vegas, Nevada. She was born in Macedonia-Yugoslavia and was his business partner and manager. He sang the U.S. National Anthem on Friday, August 8, 2003, when Vera Goulet was sworn-in as a citizen of the United States in Las Vegas.
In 2006, he received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
On September 30, 2007, Goulet was hospitalized in Las Vegas, where he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare but rapidly progressive and potentially fatal condition. On October 13, 2007, he was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after it was determined he would not survive without an emergency lung transplant.
Goulet died on October 30, 2007, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, while awaiting a lung transplant, and was cremated. Goulet was less than a month shy of his 74th birthday.
Goulet was often subject to parody in multiple Saturday Night Live skits in which he was portrayed by comedian Will Ferrell. In one segment Will Ferrell, portraying Goulet, performed multiple songs from a farce compilation album titled Coconut Bangers Ball: It's A Rap! Ferrell performed Big Poppa by Notorious Big, as well as the Thong Song by Sisqo, in a mock crooning style similar to that of Goulet. For American television audiences he will forever be known for singing the theme song for the talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which he recorded in 2003.
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