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Dick Contino, a hip-swiveling accordionist who was a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show and starred in the 1958 rock ‘n’ roll film Daddy-O, has died. He was 87.
Contino died Wednesday in his hometown of Fresno, Calif., the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
Popular with the kids back in the day, Contino lost a drag race to Sandra Giles and portrayed a singer and truck driver in Daddy-O — which was scored by John Williams in his feature debut — and then appeared in The Beat Generation (1959), Girls Town (1959) and The Big Night (1960).
By some estimates, Contino and his accordion appeared on CBS’ Ed Sullivan Show about four dozen times. His act was popular in Las Vegas for years, and author James Ellroy used the musician’s life as the basis for his 1994 novella, Dick Contino’s Blues.
At Fresno High School, Contino played fullback on the football team and was class president. After graduation, he won a Horace Heidt Amateur Talent radio contest and went on to tour with Heidt’s orchestra.
Contino later started his own band, delighted fans with his renditions of “Lady of Spain” and “Bumble Boogie” and signed a contract with RCA Victor. In 1951, he released an album that was recorded at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Contino was married to sexy Hollywood actress Leigh Snowden, who starred in the 1955 films Kiss Me Deadly and All That Heaven Allows, from 1956 until her death from cancer in 1982.
Survivors include his son, Pete, who also plays the accordion, and daughters Diedre and Mary.
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