Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington, on May 3, 1903, in a house his father built at 1112 North J Street. In 1906, Crosby's family moved to Spokane, Washington. In 1913, Crosby's father built a house at 508 E. Sharp Ave. The house now sits on the campus of Bing's alma mater Gonzaga University and formerly housed the Alumni Association.
He was the fourth of seven children: brothers Larry (1895–1975), Everett (1896–1966), Ted (1900–1973), and Bob (1913–1993); and two sisters, Catherine (1904–1974) and Mary Rose (1906–1990). His parents were Harry Lincoln Crosby (1870–1950), a bookkeeper, and Catherine Helen (known as Kate) (née Harrigan; 1873–1964). Crosby's mother was a second generation Irish-American. His father was of English descent; some of his ancestors had emigrated to what would become the U.S. in the 17th century, and included Mayflower passenger William Brewster (c. 1567 – April 10, 1644).
In 1910, six-year-old Harry Crosby was forever renamed. The Sunday edition of the Spokesman-Review published a feature called "The Bingville Bugle". Written by humorist Newton Newkirk, The Bingville Bugle was a parody of a hillbilly newsletter filled with gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spelling, and mock ads. A neighbor, 15-year-old Valentine Hobart, shared Crosby's enthusiasm for "The Bugle" and noting Crosby's laugh, took a liking to him and called him "Bingo from Bingville". Eventually the last vowel was dropped and the nickname stuck.
In 1917, Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium," where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including Al Jolson, who held Crosby spellbound with his ad libbing and spoofs of Hawaiian songs. Crosby later described Jolson's delivery as "electric".
He was a multimedia star. From 1934 to 1954 Bing Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings and motion picture grosses. His early career coincided with technical recording innovations; this allowed him to develop a laid-back, intimate singing style that influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Yank magazine recognized Crosby as the person who had done the most for American G.I. morale during World War II and, during his peak years, around 1948, polls declared him the "most admired man alive," ahead of Jackie Robinson and Pope Pius XII. Also in 1948, theMusic Digest estimated that Crosby recordings filled more than half of the 80,000 weekly hours allocated to recorded radio music.
Crosby exerted an important influence on the development of the postwar recording industry. He worked for NBC at the time and wanted to record his shows; however, most broadcast networks did not allow recording. This was primarily because the quality of recording at the time was not as good as live broadcast sound quality. While in Europe performing during the war, Crosby had witnessed tape recording, on which The Crosby Research Foundation would come to have many patents. The company also developed equipment and recording techniques such as the Laugh Track which are still in use today. In 1947, he invested $50,000 in the Ampex company, which built North America's first commercial reel-to-reel tape recorder. He left NBC to work for ABC because NBC was not interested in recording at the time. This proved beneficial because ABC accepted him and his new ideas. Crosby then became the first performer to pre-record his radio shows and master his commercial recordings onto magnetic tape. He gave one of the first Ampex Model 200 recorders to his friend, musician Les Paul, which led directly to Paul's invention of multitrack recording. Along with Frank Sinatra, Crosby was one of the principal backers behind the famous United Western Recorders recording studio complex in Los Angeles.
During the "Golden Age of Radio," performers often had to recreate their live shows a second time for the west coast time zone. Through the medium of recording, Crosby constructed his radio programs with the same directorial tools and craftsmanship (editing, retaking, rehearsal, time shifting) being used in motion picture production. This became the industry standard.
Crosby won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O'Malley in the 1944 motion picture Going My Way, and was nominated for his reprise of the role in The Bells of St. Mary's the next year, becoming the first of four actors to be nominated twice for playing the same character. In 1963, Crosby received the first Grammy Global Achievement Award. Crosby is one of the 22 people to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (a star for Motion Pictures, Radio, and Audio Recording).
Crosby was married twice, first to actress/nightclub singer Dixie Lee from 1930 until her death from ovarian cancer in 1952. They had four sons: Gary, twins Dennis and Phillip, and Lindsay. The 1947 film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is indirectly based on her life. After Dixie's death, Crosby had relationships with model-Goldwyn Girl Pat Sheehan (who married Dennis Crosby in 1958), actresses Inger Stevens and Grace Kelly before marrying the actress Kathryn Grant in 1957. They had three children: Harry (who played Bill in Friday the 13th), Mary (best known for portraying Kristin Shepard, the woman who shot J. R. Ewing on TV's Dallas), and Nathaniel.
Kathryn converted to Catholicism in order to marry the singer. Crosby was also a registered Republican, and actively campaigned for Wendell Willkie in 1940 against President Roosevelt, arguing that no man should serve more than two terms in the White House. After Willkie lost, Crosby decreed that he would never again make any open political contributions.
Crosby reportedly had an alcohol problem in his youth, and may have been dismissed from Paul Whiteman's orchestra because of it, but he later got a handle on his drinking. According to Giddins, Crosby told his son Gary to stay away from alcohol ("It killed your mother.")
It was revealed that Crosby's will had established a blind trust, with none of the sons receiving an inheritance until they reached the age of 65.
Lindsay Crosby died in 1989 and Dennis Crosby died in 1991, both suicides from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Gary Crosby died in 1995 at the age of 62 of lung cancer and 69-year-old Phillip Crosby died in 2004 of a heart attack.
Nathaniel Crosby, Crosby's youngest son from his second marriage, was a high-level golfer who won the U.S. Amateur at age 19 in 1981, at the time the youngest-ever winner of that event. Harry Crosby is an investment banker who occasionally makes singing appearances.
Widow Kathryn Crosby dabbled in local theater productions intermittently, and appeared in television tributes to her late husband. Denise Crosby, Dennis Crosby's daughter, is also an actress and is known for her role as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for the recurring role of the Romulan Sela (daughter of Tasha Yar) after her withdrawal from the series as a regular cast member. She also appeared in the film adaptation of Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary. In 2006, Crosby's niece, Carolyn Schneider, published the laudatory book "Me and Uncle Bing."
Following his recovery from a life-threatening fungal infection of his right lung in 1974, Crosby emerged from semi-retirement to start a new spate of albums and concerts. In March 1977, after videotaping a concert for CBS to commemorate his 50th anniversary in show business and with Bob Hope looking on, Crosby backed off the stage and fell into an orchestra pit, rupturing a disc in his back and requiring a month in the hospital. His first performance after the accident was his last American concert, on August 16, 1977; when the power went out, he continued singing without amplification. In September, Crosby, his family, and singer Rosemary Clooney began a concert tour of England that included two weeks at the London Palladium. While in England, Crosby recorded his final album, Seasons, and his final TV Christmas special with guest David Bowie (which aired several months after Crosby's death). His last concert was in The Brighton Centre four days before his death, with British entertainer Dame Gracie Fields in attendance. Although it has been reported that Crosby's last photograph was taken with Fields, he was photographed playing golf on the day he died.
At the conclusion of his work in England, Crosby flew alone to Spain to hunt and play golf. Shortly after 6 pm on October 14, Crosby collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on the green after a round of 18 holes of golf near Madrid where he and his Spanish golfing partner had just defeated their opponents. It is widely written that his last words were "That was a great game of golf, fellas." In Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair With Golf, the comedian recounts hearing that Crosby had been advised by a physician in England to play only nine holes of golf because of his heart condition.