Roger Williams, a virtuoso pianist nicknamed the “pianist to the presidents,” has passed away at the age of 87 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to his publicist.
Williams played for every United States president from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush. His last White House performance was in 2008 at a luncheon for then-First Lady Laura Bush.
His 1955 hit “Autumn Leaves” is the only piano instrumental to reach no. 1 on the Billboard pop charts and remains the best-selling piano record of all time. Williams started playing piano at age 3 and as a teen, he had his own 15-minute radio show on KRNT-AM out of Des Moines, IA. It was at that station he became friends with the then-sports reporter Ronald Reagan. They remained friends until President Reagan’s death.
“Roger was a great pianist, a great American, and a great
friend. I am saddened by his death, and my sympathy and prayers go out
to his family,” says Nancy Reagan in a statement.
Williams announced in March on his website that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and a few days later he played his last concert. He is survived by his two daughters, Laura and Alice, and five grandchildren.