Monday, August 1, 2016


A recurring dream haunts Bing Crosby’s youngest son Nathaniel. In this vision the legendary crooner lies on his deathbed and with his final breath whispers to his son: “I love you.”

Nathaniel Crosby has given insights to his life growing up with his famous dad Bing Crosby.

Nathaniel shakes his head. “I’d always wanted to hear this but never did. My father was never good at expressing his emotions. He never said, ‘I love you.’”

Crosby won an Oscar for 1944 movie Going My Way but would never be nominated as Father of the Year. His son Gary Crosby wrote an excoriating 1983 memoir accusing Bing of vicious childhood beatings inflicted with a metal-studded leather belt, enforcing a draconian discipline on the four boys from his first marriage.

Two of Bing’s sons ultimately committed suicide. “In music Bing was the greatest thing there ever was,” said Gary.

“As far as raising kids, he didn’t have a clue.” But Nathaniel, aged 54, from Bing’s second marriage, insists: “He never hit me. I can’t say what happened with my father’s first family. I believe he had more time to spend with us as his career was less of a priority later in life.”

Yet despite his millions, Bing made life challenging for Nathaniel, his older brother Harry and younger sister Mary. “Dad was a very humble man and demanded that we have the same humility,” says Nathaniel.

“Privately he was shy and was determined that we didn’t grow up to be Hollywood brats.”

Nathaniel, whose new memoir, 18 Holes With Bing, is published this week in America, recalls: “In the summer he had his children working 14-hour days on his ranches baling alfalfa and vaccinating cattle. It was hard manual labour. I always longed for summer to end so I could go back to school.”

Crosby was hard to impress and parsimonious with praise, forcing Nathaniel to connect with his father the only way he could. “I learned golf so that I could spend more time with him,” Nathaniel admits.

“Dad’s happiest days were any that were spent on a golf course. And the happiest times of my childhood were spent on the golf course with him.” When a teenage Nathaniel won Crosby’s local country club golf tournament, Bing hailed it as “the happiest day of my life ”.

Crosby’s second wife Kathryn was understandably offended, lamenting: “That was Bing’s happiest day. Not the songs or the films or any of his showbusiness successes. Not our wedding. Not the birth of his little girl. The fact that his teenage son had become the men’s champion at the Burlingame Country Club.”

Crosby reigned at the peak of entertainment for more than half a century. He sang the most popular recording in history, White Christmas, and had 396 hit records – more than Elvis and The Beatles combined. He was the top Hollywood box office attraction for five years in a row, starred in 31 years of radio shows and hosted decades of television shows and Christmas specials.

Bing had four sons by his first wife Dixie Lee, who died of cancer aged 40 in 1952 , and in 1957 he married former beauty queen Kathryn who was 30 years his junior.

She gave Bing two more sons and a daughter Mary, who later became a famed trivia answer as the actress who shot Larry Hagman’s oilman J R on TV soap Dallas (she played JR’s scorned mistress and sister-in-law Kristin Shepard).

The crooner was 58 when his youngest son was born and Nathaniel admits: “I was very aware of his mortality… and wanted to spend every moment with him that I could. From the age of 12 I’d wake at 6am to spend time with him as he sat with insomnia and a pot of coffee reading the newspaper.”

But Bing would often play golf in the morning before filming or recording and spent afternoons at a race track, leaving little time for his children. Crosby considered golf “good therapy, a wonderful relief from tensions, from the problems of showbusiness”.

But he wouldn’t teach his son golf. He hired a former Irish golf pro to help Nathaniel practise his swing from the age of three, later sending him for lessons.

“He wanted to enjoy his golf, not lecture me,” says Nathaniel, who went on to play hundreds of rounds with his father and began competing in tournaments. “Dad would watch me through binoculars from a fairway away to avoid attracting a crowd.”

Living in California, Crosby kept his children away from Hollywood yet for two weeks each year the clan descended on Tinseltown as Bing filmed his annual Christmas television special, which always costarred his family and attracted up to 50 million viewers.

“It just horrified me,” says Nathaniel. “I was embarrassed wearing neon leotard outfits with sequins and dancing and singing.” As for his vocal skills? Producers turned off his microphone during recording. Surprisingly Bing felt equally uncomfortable with his own celebrity. “He was immensely understated and embarrassed by his fame,” says Nathaniel.

“If he took me out he would always wear sunglasses and a hat and an overcoat so that he would be unrecognisable.” Bing’s wife Kathryn endured her own struggles with the emotionally inaccessible Crosby.

“She was a golf widow,” says Nathaniel, adding that Kathryn “may have avoided marriage counselling” only by learning to hunt with her husband. Nathaniel’s worst fears were realised when Crosby suffered lung cancer in 1974 and had half a lung removed. He recovered only to fall 20 ft off a Los Angeles stage three years later.

He recuperated to star in an acclaimed run at the London Palladium that October and the following week flew to Spain to golf and hunt. He had just completed 18 holes in Madrid when he suffered a heart attack.

There was no dying confession: “Tell Nathaniel that I love him.” “His last words weren’t particularly memorable,” says Nathaniel. “He said, ‘That was a great game of golf, fellas,’ and then ‘Let’s go have a Coca-Cola.’”

Nathaniel was only 15 and admits: “His death left me with an emotional void.” But not a financial one. Bing structured his will so that Nathaniel received his inheritance staggered over several decades.

“I had enough to keep me afloat but not so much that I wouldn’t want to work my hardest to make a success of my own life,” he says. “His death devastated me but also motivated me to excel. ”

Now a father of four plus two stepchildren from his two marriages, he sells luxury timeshares on the world’s top golf courses. And he plans to revive his father’s fading glory. Dead celebrities can earn fortunes – Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley still rake in millions – but Crosby’s image and brand have barely been promoted.

“I think dad’s legacy has been neglected and there is so much for new generations to discover – his hundreds of hits, his movies and TV shows, ” Nathaniel says.

“And though he couldn’t say, ‘I love you’, I never stop saying it to my children. I never doubted my dad’s love and it’s great that I can listen to his songs or watch his movies and he’s back with me.”



  1. Interesting post about Bing Crosby's son and legacy. It was a mixed blessing for him, but certainly Crosby had influence on music and popular culture in his day that is not appreciated today. I think his actor persona never measured up to his singing and it just never made it for modern audiences.

  2. I know that Bing was a staunch Roman Catholic. I wonder if any of his children still practice the faith.

  3. I hope there are some movies and recordings tucked away in a vault somewhere that will be released. He hasn't really been promoted and I'm sure there are a lot of people who would love to see this happen.