Oct. 7, 1959
Place of Birth:
South Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Mario Lanza, born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza, is considered as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century.
He first gained an interest in opera singing by listening and singing along at home with the songs of Enrico Caruso and other famous tenors.
His parents decided to have Freddie, as he was called, take singing lessons and his mother worked at two jobs to help pay for the services.
Freddie was fortunate to receive an audition from a famous singer, Sergey Koussewinzky.
Koussewinzky so much liked what he heard from the 15 year old youth that he took Freddie to the Tanglewood Music Center.
Tanglewood was a school noted for helping young singers and musicians.
It was at Tanglewood that Freddie performed in his first opera, playing Fenton in the "Merry Wives of Windsor."
Also at Tanglewood, Freddie decided to use the name "Mario Lanza", named after his mother's maiden name "Maria Lanza."
World War II came along and, in 1943, before the singer could get started on his career, he was drafted into the army.
It was discovered that Mario Lanza had a bad eye but when the army found out Lanza's talent, they placed him in the special service unit which gave concerts to the troops.
In 1945, Lanza was given a medical release from the army and return to California to marry Betty Lyhan, the sister of an army friend, who Lanza was devoted to throughout his life.
He began making concert tours under a new manager, Sam Weiler.
While performing at the Hollywood Bowl, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM Studios, was in the audience and marvelled at the voice and the stage presence of Mario Lanza.
What occurred over the next few years was phenomenal; several successful movies and recorded albums made Lanza the first star who had gold records in both the classical and popular music fields.
However, during the making of the movie "The Student Prince," Mario Lanza had a falling out with the project and his part was played by another actor using the dubbed singing voice of Lanza.
Lanza continued his movie career coupled with tremendous sold-out crowds for his world-wide concerts.
Some felt he should give up his movie career as it was a hindrance to the final development of his opera stardom.
Hollywood life took its toll on Lanza as he consumed too much liquor and food and his weight ballooned.
In 1959, Mario Lanza went to a clinic in Italy where it was discovered he had phlebitis and, as a result, suffered a fatal heart attack at the still young age of 38.
His wife, Betty, was very remorseful of the early death of Mario and she herself died only five months later.
For detailed research and more information, check out the following:
The Lanza Legend
Rediscovering Mario Lanza
Mario Lanza: The Definitive Biography
Please report any broken or incorrect links above to:
Last Updated: January 13, 2017
© USA-Hero/Don Jones 2004-2017