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Mario Lanza
By Jeff Rense
Mario Lanza's life, sadly, has all the markings of an epic Shakespearean tragedy. The story is truly incredible: a wild, incendiary Philadelphia kid who can sing better than Caruso, sets out to become the greatest dramatic opera singer who ever lived, is detoured by Louis B. Mayer and vixen Hollywood, is remade into a fiercely handsome box office champ with 50 inch chest, his own national radio show, 1951 TIME Magazine cover idol, and king of the pop record world.
He is besieged on cross-country concert tours and appearances years before Elvis and the Beatles, a true 'superstar' before the word was invented and the first singer to ever earn Gold Records with million sellers in both classical and popular categories.
His MGM masterpiece - 'The Great Caruso' - was the top-grossing film in the world in 1951. The Lanza voice is so incredible, so powerful, so golden, so dazzling that an awestruck Maestro Toscanini called it, simply and correctly, the 'voice of the century'. Among the multitudes of stunned admirers worldwide included the likes of: Koussevitsky, Sinatra, Presley, Schipa, Tebaldi, Tucker, Kirsten, Albanese, and countless others. Lanza's voice has been called the 'Northern Lights in a throat' and passed through a heart of peerless sensitivity and passion...and vulnerability.
Fired by MGM during production of 'The Student Prince' in 1952 after the German director Curtis Bernhardt assailed him over the 'excess' passion of one song in his stunning recording of the soundtrack, his career began a downturn that would never be reversed. Lanza never fully recovered from the emotional catastrophe of 'The Student Prince' fiasco and losing his MGM contract, and declined slowly in a pattern of near-alcoholism, food-binging, huge weight gains and losses, and professional tempestuousness.
Fed up with not being able to get film roles - save 'Serenade' for Warners in 1956 - and a savage press, Lanza quit Hollywood and moved his family to ancestral Italy to rebuild his life and career. He made two mediocre European-produced films, enjoyed generally successful concert performances, and then died of an alleged heart attack on October 7, 1959, only seven years after 'The Student Prince' nightmare at the terribly young age of 38, leaving behind four children and his shattered wife, who died five months later of a drug overdose after returning to Hollywood.
Lanza's seven films and scores of astonishing recordings continue to stun and inspire singers and the public 40 years after his death. He is celebrated and honored with film festivals, a steady flow of new CDS, and constant worldwide musical tributes, most notably by Domingo-Carreras-Pavarotti, and a multitude of lesser vocal lights. People Magazine, in 1998, summed up the Lanza voice as 'Magnificent'. Simply put, there will never be another Mario Lanza.