Lawrence Welk tenor Joe Feeney dies at 76

Singer was featured on the hit show for 25 years

Joe Feeney, a Nebraska-born tenor who crooned "Danny Boy" and other standards for 25 years on "The Lawrence Welk Show," has died. He was 76.

Feeney died of emphysema on April 16 at a hospice in Carlsbad, Calif., son Tim Feeney said. The elder Feeney lived in San Marcos in San Diego County,

"He never smoked a day in his life" and the family believes he may have contracted the illness from decades of performing in smoky casinos and nightclubs, his son said.

From 1957 to 1982, Feeney was the featured tenor on the Welk show, which offered easy-listening "champagne music" and clean-cut, family oriented songs. The shows are still broadcast on public television stations.

Feeney also had a rich career away from the show. He sang for five presidents at the White House and for Pope Paul VI in 1975 at the Vatican, according to his Web site.

Feeney, however, was modest.

"We knew him as dad," Tim Feeney said in a telephone interview Tuesday from his home in San Diego. "He came home and never told us he sang for the president."

He performed at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Disneyland, in part to support a big family.

"When you have 10 kids, even in those days, things were expensive," said another son, Sean Feeney of La Costa.

His last performance was in Syracuse, N.Y., in December.

"He loved it," Tim Feeney said of the singing. "It was his life. And that's what led most of the family to sing and perform throughout the years."

Feeney was born to an Irish-American family in Grand Island, Neb., and as a child sang in the church choir. He continued singing through school. He entered and won several singing contests at the University of Nebraska, where he was starting quarterback.

A tape of his singing was sent to Welk in 1956, resulting in a guest spot on the Los Angeles-based show.

"From then on, he became a regular," Sean Feeney said.

When he wasn't singing, Feeney loved to fish and golf. He also kept a garden and at one time raised horses on a ranch in Simi Valley, Tim Feeney said.

In addition to his two sons, Feeney is survived by sons Joe Jr., of Escondido; George Patrick, of Las Vegas; Chris, of Los Angeles, and Matt, of San Diego; daughters Kathy Feeney of Glendale, Ariz. and Georgia Feeney of San Marcos, and nine grandchildren. Two other children died.