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BRANSON, Mo (Reuters) - Veteran singer Andy Williams, a 1960s television variety show star best known for his rendition of the ballad "Moon River," told fans over the weekend that he has been diagnosed with bladder cancer.
The 83-year-old entertainer broke the news to a live concert audience at his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, during a Saturday performance of his "2011 Andy Williams Christmas Show," city officials confirmed on Sunday.
"I do have cancer of the bladder," a local newspaper in his adoptive hometown, the Branson Tri-Lakes News, quoted Williams as saying from the stage. "But that is no longer a death sentence. People with cancer are getting through this thing."
The theater's website made no specific mention of Williams' diagnosis but says, "due to health reasons Andy may not make a live appearance in his Christmas Show."
Williams missed the opening four shows of the season last week, making his first appearance on Saturday night. The Lennon Sisters and other acts are filling in for him at the Moon River Theater in his absence.
The 2,000-seat dinner theater, which Williams built and opened in 1992, is named for his signature song, written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini for the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
It became Williams' own theme after he sang it at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1962, the same year he began hosting his own regular weekly TV variety show on NBC.
Known for a smooth vocal style, he also recorded hits with "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Can't Get Used to Losing You," "Solitaire," "Music to Watch Girls By," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and the theme from the 1970 movie hit "Love Story."
A close friend of the Kennedy family, Williams sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy after the New York senator was assassinated during the 1968 presidential campaign.
He also sang at the funeral of Kennedy's son, Michael, who was killed in a 1998 skiing accident.
In 1999, a polyp was discovered on his vocal chords. Rather than undergo surgery, Williams chose instead to rest his voice with no singing and little talking for 10 months until the polyp went away on its own.
Williams has otherwise been appearing in Branson on a regular basis for the past two decades, typically performing two shows a day, six days a week for nine months a year.
He is among the higher-profile performers associated with Branson, which has grown into a major vacation and live entertainment hub in the Ozarks, attracting such talent as Dolly Parton, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando, Chubby Checker and the Righteous Brothers.
Williams, known as "Mr. Christmas" around Branson, a city of about 10,000 residents in southwestern Missouri, encouraged other venues in town to open holiday shows, light up their theaters and launch the Yuletide season on November 1 every year.
Huge billboards with Williams in his traditional red holiday sweater adorn the town.
"Williams has been a great asset to our community," said Suzy Aikman, owner of a gift shop called the Burlington Annex, adding that before he helped turn November into a month-long Christmas prelude "you could shoot a canon down Main Street and not hit a person" during the month.
Additional reporting by Sheri Linden in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton