Phyllis McGuire, Last of the Singing McGuire Sisters, Dead at 89
Phyllis McGuire, the last surviving member of the singing-sensation McGuire Sisters, died December 27 at her home in Las Vegas, The New York Times reports.
She was 89.
Born on Valentine's Day in 1931, McGuire was the enduringly popular, Ohio-bred trio's frontwoman — the one in the middle — in spite of being the youngest of the brood, from the start of their success in the 1950s.
The sisers, known for identical hair, makeup, and clothing, were legendary for their harmonizing and pure pop voices, counterprogramming for the burgeoning rock movement that existed parallel to them.
"We've been singing together since I was four years old," Phyllis recalled in 1989. "We sang in the car, using the windshield wiper for a metronome. My sisters are the most incredible harmony singers. I can start in any key, and they pick it up."
The McGuire Sisters appeared on an episode of "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" in 1952, becoming overnight sensations. They went on to score #1 hits with "Sincerely" (1955) and "Sugartime" (1957), made countless TV appearances, and became a major draw in clubs.
Phyllis enjoyed a solo career during this time as well, including releasing the successful single "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" (1964).
Sister Dorothy's '50s affair with fellow singer Julius La Rosa had besmirched the group's good-girl rep, but when Phyllis's affair with mobster Sam Giancana was exposed in 1965, their image took a near-fatal hit. The romance was dramatized in the 1995 HBO movie "Sugartime," with Mary-Louise Parker playing Phyllis.
As the result of the fallout from Phyllis's mob tryst, the McGuire Sisters disbanded in 1968. Giancana was rubbed out in a mob hit in 1975, and Phyllis — by then just an old flame and close friend — was among the only members of the entertainment world to pay her respects in person.
By 1985, the sisters had reformed, and spent 19 successful years as a high-end nostalgia act, harkening back to a bygone era as the music scene became an increasingly alien place for poodle skirts, harmonizing, and demure songs about puppy love.
Phyllis also continued her solo side projects, including appearing in the musical "Applause" in Atlantic City.
In their long career, the sisters sang for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as for Queen Elizabeth II. Their final public performance together was on PBS in 2004, where they smoothly ran through a medley of their hits, including 1961's "Just for Old Time's Sake," more than 50 years after their debut in spite of being in their seventies.
After that, Phyllis, who maintained apartments in NYC, lived ostentatiously in Las Vegas, her bullet-proof palatial home boasting a dining hall with a mirrored floor, a replica of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and even a moat. Writer Dominick Dunne, in his 1989 Vanity Fair profile of McGuire, reported that when he landed in Las Vegas and began to give the cabbie instructions on where he was going, he was told, "Everybody in Vegas knows where Phyllis McGuire lives."
Dorothy McGuire died in 2012 at 84 of Parkinson's disease and dementia. Christine McGuire died almost exactly two years before Phyllis, on December 27, 2018, at 92, with no cause of death given and no formal announcement made.
McGuire was married for four years in the '50s to broadcaster Neal Van Ells, but never remarried after their 1956 divorce. She had no children.
Preceded in death by her longtime companion, Edward Michael Davis, she is survived by nieces and nephews.