Born Harry Lillis Crosby in Spokane, Washington to parents of Anglo-Irish heritage, Bing Crosby would become a pioneer of the entertainment industry in the early 20th century. The nickname Bing that he would carry with him throughout his life is attributable to two of his earliest passions while growing up in Washington State: a parody newspaper and drinking. The Bingville Bugle was a newspaper parody that he was fond of and would be the genesis of his Bing moniker early in life. His passion for drinking, sometimes to excess, temporarily replaced his Bing title with the more dubious "binge" in his late teenage years.
Music was an early influence in his life and his father's mandolin and the family's Victrola phonograph would become the soundtrack of his childhood. The phonograph cost his father an entire paycheck but the family's love for music made it a worthwhile expense.
In his adolescent years, Bing came to idolize entertainer Al Jolson. When the musician/comedian performed his stage show in Spokane, Washington, Bing sought out a job at the theater so that he could mimic Jolson's every movement from backstage.
Bing's introduction to performing was alongside a five piece dance band with his friend Al Rinker. The band was named The Musicaladers and Bing played drums for the group. He was a poor drummer but no one paid attention to his percussion work after they heard him sing. Even early on Bing displayed his trademark charm and grace when he performed on stage. The first of the great crooners, Crosby's success and on stage presence would lead the way for musicians like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennet and countless others.
A year after joining The Musicaladers, Bing was asked to bring life to the failing NBC program, The Kraft Music Hall. He would restructure the show's format into the prototypical broadcast variety show. His variety show format would continue to be imitated decades later with great success. Most notable successors of the T.V. show format that Crosby revolutionized include, Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Steve Allen.
As a recording artist he came to be associated with Christmas music. His two biggest selling singles were Irving Berlin's "White Christmas
" and his rendition of another Christmas standard, "Silent Night." His 1945 version of "White Christmas" is the highest grossing recording of all-time and the Guinness Book of World Records lists sales totals to be in excess of 100 million units.
Bing Crosby's legacy as an actor includes an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father O'Malley in the 1944 film Going My Way. He would reprise the role a year later in the film The Bells of St. Mary's and earn an additional nomination for Best Actor, but would lose the award to Ray Milland in 1945.
Bing Crosby and his friend Bob Hope made seven of the popular "Road to…"pictures together with Dorothy Lamour. The first of the series, Road to Singapore, was released in 1940. The pair had been cast for "Road to the Fountain of Youth" and production had begun in 1977 but the picture was cancelled after Bing's death of a heart attack. As of 2010, Bing Crosby was ranked #7 on the Motion Picture Almanac list of the highest grossing movies stars of all time.
From an early age Crosby loved sports and athletics. His slight stature prevented him from excelling at football and basketball but he was a talented fielder in baseball and an exceptional swimmer. At the age of 12 he landed a job at the local country club working as a golf caddy. Golf became an integral part of his life, and after he attained a level of success and fame in the entertainment industry, Bing's affinity for golf led him to found a pro-am golf tournament that he referred to as the "Crosby Clambake," in 1937. Sam Snead was the first pro golfer to win the event and the purse: $500 put up by Crosby himself. Pro golfers made little money in the 1930s and $500 was an enormous sum at the time.
From 1946 to 1960 he owned a 15% share of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club. When the Pirates won the World Series on Bill Mazeroski's game winning home run in game 7, Crosby was in Paris, France listening to the broadcast on the radio because he was too nervous to watch the game in person. He sold his share of the team shortly after they won the World Series in 1960.
Bing Crosby's first marriage to Dixie Lee in 1930 produced 4 sons. It was a long running joke in Hollywood that Crosby could not sire daughters. The marriage ended after Dixie Lee's death in 1952 of ovarian cancer. He met his second wife, Kathryn Grant, on the Paramount Studios Lot where she was working as an actress and a singer. They had two sons and a daughter together. Bing and Kathryn remained married until his death in 1977.
Crosby's family would prove to be an aspect of his life filled with hardship and controversy. Six years after his death in 1983, Crosby's son Gary published Going My Own Way. It was an autobiography of his life as an actor and detailed aspects of his relationship with his famous father. Gary alleged periods of physical abuse (spanking) as a means of discipline by his father while growing up. Gary's brothers Lindsay and Dennis both committed suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Lindsay Crosby had been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder prior to his death. The children of Bing Crosby have given opposing accounts about the issue of physical abuse by their father; Philip Crosby denied the allegations, Lindsay and Dennis corroborated Gary's depictions in the autobiography before committing suicide. Bing's children with his second wife Kathryn have described their father as being a kind and caring man and have contradicted allegations of abuse by their half brothers on numerous occasions.
It was largely a result of his desire to implement audio recording in the production of his radio show that led Bing Crosby to invest financially in recording technology. This proved to be one of his many lucrative investments and helped build his reputation as a shrewd businessman. By recording his shows as opposed to broadcasting them live, he was also one of the first artists to use laugh tracks to both accentuate a joke on the air and to fill gaps in the total run time. This allowed a show to be precisely recorded to fit into an hour or half hour time slot. It also allowed Crosby to supply taped recordings of the shows to the U.S. soldiers stationed abroad.
Bing Crosby died of a heart attack after finishing the 18th hole at a course near Madrid, Spain. It has been reported that his doctor recommended that he limit his round to only 9 holes that day and that his final words were "That was a great game of golf, fellas."