The McGuire Sisters star Phyllis McGuire dead at 89: Singer who had infamous affair with mob boss Sam Giancana passes away in Las Vegas
Phyllis McGuire of the 1950s singing trio the McGuire Sisters died this Tuesday aged 89 at her sprawling mansion in Las Vegas.
She was the youngest and last surviving member of the group, dying exactly two years and one day after her sister Christine.
The Palm Eastern Mortuary confirmed her death to the New York Times on New Year’s Eve without stating a specific cause.
Dearly departed: Phyllis McGuire of the 1950s singing trio the McGuire Sisters died this Tuesday aged 89 at her home in Las Vegas; pictured in 2007
Throwback to 1955: She was the youngest and last surviving member of the group; she is pictured between her sisters Christine (left) and Dorothy (right)
She and her sisters were a showbiz sensation – but their squeaky clean all-American image was tarnished by her affair with notorious mafioso Sam Giancana.
Phyllis was only four years old when she began singing with her sisters during their upbringing in small-town Ohio during the Great Depression.
Christine, Dorothy and Phyllis performed at the church where their mother Lillie served as a minister and then broke out into such venues as military bases.
However the year they became stars was 1952 – they got a record deal with Coral and got a rapturous audience response to their shot on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.
That year she tied the knot with a radio personality called Neal Van Ells, but the marriage had fallen apart by 1956.
Their biggest hit recordings were Sugartime, Sincerely and Picnic, all recorded and released during the middle of the 1950s.
With their coordinated costumes and choreography, they became regular favorites on the variety show circuit including Ed Sullivan.
Her troubles began one night in 1959 when she was at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas for a singing engagement with her sisters.
Sam Giancana saw her onstage and fell for her, instructing his front man to ‘eat the marker’ on the thousands of dollars of debt she owed at the blackjack tables.
Their sizzling romance became the stuff of infamy, throwing up roadblocks in the McGuire Sisters’ career as it thundered into the 1960s.
‘When I met him I did not know who he was, and he was not married and I was an unmarried woman, and according to the way I was brought up there was nothing wrong with that. And I didn’t find out until sometime later really who he was, and I was already in love,’ she insisted to Barbara Walters decades later.
She tried to leave him ‘a couple of times’ as ‘it was really hurting the career and it was really breaking my parents’ heart, and I also had an ultimatum from my sister’s husband that if this didn’t end that the trio would be over. So that was very painful for me to think of, and so I tried twice but it didn’t work.’
At one point she and Sam disembarked a plane in Chicago, the site of his mob operation, and were ambushed by FBI agents.
To avoid facing a subpoena Phyllis consented to be interviewed right then, and while she was taken off separately Sam was left holding her handbag.
‘I know all about the Kennedys and Phyllis knows a lot more about the Kennedys and one of these days we are going to tell all,’ he fumed according to an FBI report.
By the 1960s the singing act was sullied, giving a farewell performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1968 and then breaking up.
Dorothy and Christine receded from public life entirely to become homemakers but Phyllis carried on a solo career as a live singing act.
A year before the group broke up she had bought her 55,000 square foot Las Vegas estate with money she chalked up to her oil and gas investments.
Her home’s embellishments included swan-shaped gold bathroom fixtures, a 19th century chandelier and a replica of the Eiffel Tower that went 45 feet high.
Phyllis spent a long time involved with ‘Tiger Mike’ Davis, who had risen from a chauffeur to an oil and gas tycoon, known as the ‘world’s grumpiest boss.’
When Tiger Mike fell for Phyllis she was still running around with Giancana, and according to Dominick Dunne she warned him off her.