A Profile in Courage and Generosity
By Rachel Galvin
Best known for her soulful singing and songs like “Where the Boys Are,” “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and “Stupid Cupid,” Connie Francis got her start at age 3, beginning with taking accordion lessons. The road was rocky … but she got her big break on January 1, 1958 when Dick Clark played her song “Who’s Sorry Now” on American Bandstand.
Connie lists that as one of her favorite moments. “The song had been out for three months and went nowhere like the others. When Dick Clark said I was headed for the number one spot, I absolutely flipped,” she says.
Her other favorite moment was when she received an unprecedented response to her performance of “Mama” for Perry Como’s show, a song from her first Italian album that she originally did not want to do, saying it was “too ethnic.” “The applause was so overwhelming, Perry Como couldn’t go into the next commercial. It was a moment in television history,” she says.
It was the film “Where the Boys Are” that really propelled her stardom and brought in throngs of Spring Breakers into Fort Lauderdale, where it was filmed, for years to come. But she did not see the film until 20 years later when she called the Gateway Theater, where it was originally shown, and asked them if they would show it for her.
“My son wanted to see it,” she says. “I didn’t like [seeing myself]. I am very self-conscious.”
She may not like herself, but the rest of the world certainly did. She amassed more than 50 albums under her belt and still is in demand.
Of all of her songs, her favorite is “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Other favorites include “Milk and Honey,” which she says was “an album no one ever bought” and “Mama,” which she says, “Touched more people than any other song I have ever done. After mom passed away, I couldn’t do it for a year.”
Her mother’s passing was not the only difficult time in her life. After trying to pick up the pieces from suffering a miscarriage, in 1974, while on her first stop of a nationwide tour at Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, she was “brutally robbed, beaten and raped at knife point.” She went into seclusion for seven years and battled the motel chain in a court case, eventually winning.
The troubles continued, including a botched nasal surgery leading to being unable to sing for three years and requiring many more surgeries, three failed marriages and the murder of her only sibling. When the pressure got to be too much, her father institutionalized her repeatedly and she was misdiagnosed as being bipolar. It was only later that she was found to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When asked how she has persevered through these terrifying storms in her life, she says, “Have a sense of humor. I can find something funny in anything that happens. Also, the love and support of family and fans. I received so many prayers and letters of inspiration.”
Now, she is telling her story in the form of a musical (which she classifies as more of a drama with music) from when she was 14 and a contestant on “The Startime Kids” to her last performance. It basically ends at the same time as her first book, in 1982.
She has written two books already and is now working on a third lengthy book, “Among My Souvenirs: The Real Story” which includes some skipped parts of her life. In addition, she has recorded a new song called “Soldier Died Today” with her record company, Concetta Records. It deals with PTSD.
Regarding PTSD, she says, “Twenty-three service members per day are lost through suicide ... more than battle in the last two wars. The psychiatrist found out I had PTSD. The sleeplessness, hopelessness that comes over you. It is devastating. There are 32 million people with chronic depression.”
She has coped with her condition in many ways, including finding a good friend to talk to and writing. She suggests that people “write things down, keep a daily diary. If you have a problem just write about it.”
Connie is working with families of soldiers. She says, “We are trying to give families an idea of what it is like when soldiers come home. Their families are not prepared for the stranger that comes home to them. I don’t think you can see brutality of war like I did in Vietnam and not come home unchanged. To see an 18-year-old kid run into a Napalm ball of fire.
“The soldiers feel like another name on a dog tag. I don’t think I ever felt more needed than when I visited the soldiers in Vietnam. I talked to hundreds of these men. Not one expressed anger or hostility for being there. Their existence would never be the same, but they never complained.”
Connie has received many awards in her life, but her most cherished award is from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.“I wrote a victims’ Bill of Rights. I hope to post it in 50,000 precincts across the country. Rape victims must be questioned by a female officer, kept abreast of their case from beginning to end and if the perpetrator is out of jail, the victim has to be notified.”
If Connie wasn’t the singer she has become, she would have become a doctor.
She says, “My dream was to find a cure for cancer. I watched my favorite uncle die of cancer.”
Connie adds, “I have given so much in my life. I want to give something back … I hope I did okay.”
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