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Osmond goodbye: Family shares memories of father

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PROVO — Four of George Osmond's sons began singing in the 1950s to raise money for hearing aids for their two deaf older brothers.

Fifty years and 51 gold records later, the Osmond Brothers and sister Marie have sold 77 million records. But their father had recently grown increasingly lonely without their mother, Olive, who died three years ago.

"I'm not happy," George Osmond told his son Wayne three times in the past few weeks.

"It just hurt my heart," Wayne said. "All three times, I prayed to Heavenly Father he would make my father happy, and he did. He's back with my mom."

George Osmond was honored Friday during funeral services attended by nearly 500 people. He died Tuesday at age 90 of natural causes.

He had been looking forward to Thursday when he and his nine children, 53 grandchildren and 44 great-grandchildren were going to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to celebrate 50 years of Osmonds in show business.

The family decided the show must go on in honor of George Osmond. After taping the hourlong program in Chicago on Thursday, the entire family flew back to Utah for the funeral. "Oprah and the Osmonds" aired Friday afternoon, less than an hour after the family left the gravesite of the patriarch of one of America's most famous entertainment families.

The family's continuing star power was evident on both days. On "Oprah," Marie Osmond danced with partner Jonathan Roberts from the hit show "Dancing with the Stars." Winfrey noted that the Osmonds are planning a reunion tour in the United Kingdom in the spring. Tickets for the show at famous Wembley Stadium sold out in one hour. And PBS will air an Osmonds 50th anniversary special in March.

Roberts also attended the funeral, where all nine children — Virl, Tom, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie and Jimmy — shared the stand in the chapel with 40 flower arrangements, then one-by-one stood at the pulpit and shared glimpses of their father's life.

They also sang. With Virl and Tom using sign language, the Osmonds adopted a tune they traditionally sang for their mother: "I wouldn't trade the silver in my (father's) hair for all the gold in the world."

The Osmond 2nd Generation — Merrill's eight sons, minus one serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — sang "I May Never Pass This Way Again."

George Osmond married Olive Davis in 1944. "They kept on having boys," Virl Osmond said, "and my mother just wanted one girl, so they had nine kids."

George Osmond sang to his children on road trips. When his boys began to sing with him, he taught them to harmonize. In 1962, Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay made their television debut on a Disney show. That led to a seven-year gig on network television — at a time when there were only three networks in the country — on "The Andy Williams Show."

The Osmonds soon became international sensations. Osmondmania included the long hair and sideburns of the 1970s, a cartoon show and ultimately ABC's "Donny and Marie Show," which enjoyed a four-year run.

The second-youngest of George Osmond's children, Marie became the first female artist to debut at No. 1 on the country charts with "Paper Roses."

Through all the success, and a devastating crisis in which the family lost its fortune, the family maintained its image as squeaky-clean Mormons, an image they earned, said President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency of the LDS Church. "I've been very proud of the Osmonds. ... The Osmond family is a sermon."

President Monson said George Osmond was a man without guile. "You've had an excellent example," he told the family. "Have the sense to follow it."

The Osmonds became international ambassadors for their church, leading President Monson to say, "This family has set the greatest example of missionary work I've ever known."

Virl Osmond said his parents served "one of the longest-running missions in the church."

George and Olive's 60-year marriage began with an Abbott and Costello movie followed by dancing, Marie Osmond recalled. They enjoyed laughter and dancing the rest of their lives.

"They would leave their bedroom door open at night so they could hear us all," Marie said. "I'd hear them in their bed at night and they'd sit and tell each other jokes. As I would drift off to sleep, it was so comforting to hear the two of them laughing and laughing and laughing."

"He was the cutest man ever," she added later. "He had the best sense of humor. I've tried to laugh to avoid the tears."

She was grateful that she had spoken with him Monday and to learn that he watched her perform that night on "Dancing with the Stars." She dedicated the routine, set to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," to her parents and wore her hair the way her mother Olive did.

"I feel that I've lost the most amazing man in my life," she said. "I'm so glad he's dancing with my mother now. He's dancing in the stars."

Each of the nine children expressed love for their father, often laughing through tears. Each also said they expect to see him again, professing their faith in the LDS teaching that families can be together after this life but clearly saddened by the separation from their father.

Donny Osmond recalled visiting with his father the Saturday before he died, when he felt an urge to visit his father between returning from a U.K. tour and another engagement.

"He had lost his speech," Donny said. "He couldn't communicate well. But every once in a while he said something intelligible. He said, 'Donny, I love you."'

The viewing, held directly before the funeral, included memorabilia like a plaque of the family's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a checker set and a quilt with the many names that George Osmond's children had for him, including King George, Par-Par and Dee-Daw.

Osmond was buried next to his wife at East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery in Provo, on the side of a hill with an expansive view of Utah Valley, Utah Lake and the Oquirrh Mountains.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com