May 4, 1925 ~ May 9, 2004
"Remember, families are eternal."


 

Osmond matriarch dies

Mother of 9 is remembered for devotion to family

By Laura Hancock
Deseret Morning News

      Olive Osmond, matriarch of a Utah family of famous entertainers, was being remembered on Mother's Day for her devotion to her nine children and her millions of "children" throughout the world.

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Olive Osmond

Osmond Family Photo

      Mrs. Osmond, who had been suffering the effects of numerous strokes over the past 5 1/2 years, died about 4:40 a.m. Sunday at her Provo home, surrounded by family. She had turned 79 on Tuesday.
      A spokesman said her family felt relief that she had been released from suffering. "They've been anticipating this, but nothing prepares you for the time, or (for) it to come on Mother's Day," family spokesman Ron Clark said.
      Mrs. Osmond's health had declined in recent weeks, and all of her children were able to say their goodbyes. Some were not at her bedside when she passed because they had contractual obligations, but they were en route to Utah Sunday.
      Messages from fans throughout the world were posted to Mrs. Osmond's Web site, http://www.oliveosmond.com.
      A woman identified as "Cindy" wrote she was sorry for the loss. "I grew up with your family on TV and radio. I felt that I knew you through this media."
      Mrs. Osmond was born in Samaria, Idaho, in 1925 to Thomas and Vera Ann Davis. Her father was a school principal, which Clark believes explained why she loved reading all her life.
      She moved to Ogden and worked as a secretary at the Adjutant General Depot where she met a young soldier, George V. Osmond, and wrote in her diary, "Today I met someone who's going to mean a lot to me."
      They married in 1944. Early in their marriage, she played saxophone in a band that performed at local dances. She later played the sax on television for family Christmas specials, albeit reluctantly. "Her kids (would) say, 'Look, we're producing the shows, you're going on,' " said Clark, who was the executive director of corporate communications for the family for 14 years.

Mrs. Osmond complied because she believed the specials promoted a "positive aspect of family, in this case, a large family," he said.
      The Osmonds' first two sons, Virl and Tom, developed degenerative hearing losses that also affected their speech, Clark said. Their subsequent seven children Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie and Jimmy did not develop the same hearing problem and went on to musical fame and fortune.
      "She knew the kids wanted to sing. They loved to sing together," Clark said. "It became something they enjoyed so much, she and George put their lives on hold."
      The family traveled to Southern California in the early 1960s hoping to break into show biz on "The Lawrence Welk Show." They couldn't get an audition, and the children started to get discouraged.
      "Olive said, 'We're not going to sit here and be miserable. Let's go someplace to play and have fun,' " Clark said.
      The family went to Disneyland and began alternating songs with a barbershop quartet they ran into on Main Street. Soon, Walt Disney hired them to promote Disney attractions, and the family moved from Ogden to Southern California.
      They returned to Ogden when the Disney contract was up but moved back after landing a contract on an Andy Williams television show. They got a contract with MGM Records in 1971.
      "And as they say, the rest is history," Clark said.
      The Osmond Brothers garnered dozens of platinum and gold albums. "The Donny and Marie Show" ran for four seasons on television in the 1970s.
      The family moved back to Utah at the end of 1972 and built a recording studio in Provo, commuting to Los Angeles when necessary.

      Mrs. Osmond prioritized the events of the day. She never let herself get down, and the word "cannot" was not in her vocabulary, Clark said. "She handled it very well. She was highly organized. She was so positive."
      Mrs. Osmond knew music made her children happy. But she also defined success as having strong faith and character.
      "She has succeeded. This is a very unified family. And in show business, that does not very often prevail," Clark said.
      She wanted other children to be positive, too.
      Osmond fan club members received one of two teen magazines: Osmond Spotlight, for residents in the United States, or Spotlight World, for residents in Europe that included Mrs. Osmond's words of positive reinforcement. She wanted to help build young people's self-esteem.
      "She wanted to touch their lives. She didn't want to convert them to Mormonism. She just wanted them to be secure with what they were," Clark said.
      Today, Virl and Tom are working and taking care of their families. Alan is on a speaking tour promoting values with the World Family Organization. Jimmy owns two theaters in Branson, Mo. Donny is still performing and recording. Marie has a syndicated radio program. Wayne, Merrill and Jay are on tour together.
      Mrs. Osmond also is survived by her husband, George, 55 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

 

The Osmond family jewel

Deseret Morning News editorial

May 12, 2004

Chevrolet did it. So did Kodak, Kleenex and Olive Osmond. They all created American "brand names" known around the world. In the case of Olive Osmond, the brand was the family name: Osmond. Saying "Osmond" in a game of word association will summon up "wholesome," "pleasant," "well-scrubbed" and "upbeat." The term "goody-goody" might even come up. But those who feel that those adjectives are unappealing need only ask themselves what words the brand names "Madonna," "O.J." and "Britney" bring to mind.

On Sunday, Olive Osmond passed away at 79 after weathering a series of strokes. With her famous family about her, she died - fittingly - on Mother's Day. And though many news outlets mentioned her passing, there was no question that her death hit home in Utah.

Over the years, Mother Osmond's family had its ups and downs, of course. Indeed, she probably felt like the matriarch on "All My Children." But she kept her faith and her composure. She had coached her offspring well. Like the mother bear training her cubs for the wild, she knew how brutal the rough-and-tumble world of show business could be, and she prepared herself and her children accordingly. She instilled in them the values and virtues she'd grown up with in small-town Idaho.

Then she served as a living reminder of them.

At first her kids sang to earn money to pay for their LDS missions. Later they signed on with Disney to brighten the day for Disneyland patrons. The breakthrough came when Andy Williams took a shine to the group. One suspects he cherished their tight "sibling harmony," that same "bust a chord" brightness he'd relished in the Williams Brothers as a boy.

But more than their talent, what charmed America was their temperament. There was an Osmond mystique - a playfulness and professionalism, and a warm, spiritual energy.

Known as a fine organizer with an even temper, Olive Osmond found her mettle tested as her children struggled with fame and fortune. But she held true to herself and her children. In fact, the best description of her may have been written by John Steinbeck in "Grapes of Wrath" when he described steady Ma Joad: "From her great and humble position in the family," Steinbeck writes, "she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty . . . she seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really wavered or despaired, the family would fall."

Olive Osmond never wavered or despaired. And she left her kin a family legacy, while giving the rest of the world a legacy family.

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