scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Ed Ames, singing star who became a familiar face on TV, dies at 95

Mr. Ames, shown in 1967, had a career that spanned musical theater, a television series, and pop music.Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Ed Ames, who first gained fame as the lead singer of the Ames Brothers, a chart-topping group from the Boston area whose success predated the rise of rock ’n’ roll, and who then turned to acting as Fess Parker’s Indian companion on the popular NBC show “Daniel Boone,” died May 21 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 95.

His wife, Jeanne (Arnold) Ames, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr. Ames’s introduction to the spotlight was a family affair. With their smooth, clean harmonies, the Ames Brothers — Ed, Gene, Joe, and Vic — had hit records from the late 1940s through the late ’50s with material ranging from pre-World War I college songs (“The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”) to folk songs (“Goodnight Irene”) to love songs (“I Love You for Sentimental Reasons”). The quartet had a two-sided No. 1 hit in 1950 with “Sentimental Me” and “Rag Mop.” Their “You, You, You” held the top spot for eight weeks in 1953 and stayed on the charts for nearly eight months. All told, the Ames Brothers sold more than 20 million records.

The Ames Brothers performed at major venues including Ciro’s in Hollywood and the Roxy in New York. They appeared regularly in Las Vegas and on television, as guests of Milton Berle, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, and Ed Sullivan. In 1956, they had their own syndicated TV series. In 1958, Billboard magazine named them the vocal group of the year.


But by 1960, Ed Ames had had enough.

Mr. Ames (second from right) recorded with his brothers.Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

“I thought I’d go out of my skull if I had to sing the same song again,” he said in 1964. “We were in a comfortable groove, but it was a merry-go-round for me and I was getting bored.”

The Ameses had tired of the constant travel and absence from their growing families. The finale for Ed came when he arrived home unexpectedly and his wife called to their 3-year-old daughter: “Who is it?” The girl replied, “One of the Ames Brothers.”


“That did it,” he told a reporter. “My brothers and I agreed that we had all had it and should go our separate ways.”

The group, which was earning $20,000 a week, played its last engagement at the Sahara in Las Vegas on New Year’s 1961.

Mr. Ames’s efforts to establish himself as a solo singer were not immediately successful and he turned to acting. He almost lost his house before he found a role in a production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

In the long-running musical “The Fantasticks,” he sang “Try to Remember,” which became one of his theme songs. He joined the traveling company of Gower Champion’s “Carnival” and transferred to the New York company until the show’s final performance.

He also continued recording. As a solo artist, he had hits with “Try to Remember” (1965), “Time, Time” (1967), “My Cup Runneth Over” (1967), and “Who Will Answer?” (1968).

Mr. Ames also starred in the 1963 Broadway production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel. He played Chief Bromden, an American Indian patient in a mental hospital who feigns being mute and ends up suffocating the lead character — the rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy, played by Kirk Douglas (and later, on film, by Jack Nicholson) — as an act of mercy.


It would not be the last time Mr. Ames played a Native American.

His performance in “Cuckoo’s Nest” led to his best-known role: opposite Fess Parker on “Daniel Boone” as Mingo, the Oxford-educated son of a Cherokee woman and an English nobleman who joins Boone in his expeditions on the Tennessee frontier. (Mingo’s father was the Earl of Dunmore, but Mingo chose to remain part of the Cherokee Nation rather than claim the title.)

Mr. Ames, with a cigar from "Daniel Boone" star Fess Parker, who was celebrating the birth of his daughter in 1964. Associated Press

Mr. Ames played Mingo for the first four of the show’s six seasons, from 1964 to 1968. But his most memorable moment during those years did not come on “Daniel Boone.” It happened on April 29, 1965, when he was Johnny Carson’s guest on “The Tonight Show.”

In a segment that soon became a staple of “Tonight Show” highlight reels, Mr. Ames set out to teach Carson how to toss a tomahawk, using a rudimentary drawing of a sheriff on a wooden panel as his target. He threw the tomahawk across the stage. When it embedded precisely in the sheriff’s crotch, the audience reacted with loud, sustained laughter.

Mr. Ames tried to retrieve the tomahawk, but Carson grabbed his arm. As another roar of laughter subsided, Carson looked at Mr. Ames and said, “I didn’t even know you were Jewish.”

He was.

Ed Ames was born Edmund Dantes Urick in Malden, the youngest of 11 children, four who died in childhood. Their parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and their mother taught the children to read Shakespeare and to appreciate music they heard every Saturday on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.


The four youngest boys began singing at local events as the Urick Brothers. Ed was still in high school when they moved to night clubs, but as a husky six-footer with a deep voice, he was able to pass for 21.

In New York, comedy writer Abe Burrows advised a name change because Urick was hard to remember. Ames was the brothers’ choice.

Ed was the last surviving member of the Ames Brothers; Vic died in a car accident in 1978, Gene in 1997, and Joe in 2007. His first marriage, to Sara Cacheiro, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1998, he leaves two children from his first marriage, Ronald and Sonya; a stepson, Stephen Saviano; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His daughter Marcella Ames died before him.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Mr. Ames performed in regional productions of musicals including “South Pacific,” “Man of La Mancha,” and “Carousel.” He was also seen occasionally on television, on “Murder, She Wrote,” “In the Heat of the Night” and — as himself — on the sitcom “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”

Dennis Hevesi, a former reporter for the Times, died in 2017. Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.