Editor's note: This is the third of three articles looking at the lives and careers of the Osmond family. After publication, it was reported that Jimmy Osmond suffered a stroke while performing in Birmingham, England. Osmond is recovering in England with his wife, Michelle.
PROVO — The first part he ever played was Frank Sinatra, and Sinatra was looking straight at him.
Jimmy Osmond was 6 years old when Nancy Sinatra, Frank’s daughter, performed at the Las Vegas International Hotel, which no longer exists, but like the Sinatras, was a very big deal in 1969.
Jimmy’s older brothers — Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay and Donny, aka the Osmond Brothers — were also headliners on the show, and the producers thought it would be cute to have little Jimmy come on stage, wearing Sinatra’s hat, and sing “That’s Life” in a skit with Nancy.
“My first real gig,” remembers Jimmy Osmond. “Sinatra was sitting right there in front.”
Was he intimidated?
He smiles and shrugs. Didn’t every kid start out in life like that?
• • •
By the time he arrived, the last in a long line of Osmonds, all the parts were taken. Donny was the teen idol; Marie the likeable kid sister; Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay the original singing Osmond Brothers. Virl and Tom, the two oldest sons of George and Olive Osmond, were the first full-time hearing-impaired missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That left James Arthur Osmond to chart his own course.
So he did. He became the Osmond Outlier.
“I was always the independent one,” says Jimmy Osmond. “By the time I came along I don’t know if my parents were worn down or what it was, but they never told me no. It was just the opposite; they empowered me to believe I could do anything I set my sights on. I didn’t know any better, and that ignorance was so great because I was never afraid to do anything.”
These days, Osmond has a home in the River Bottoms area in Provo, where he resides — at least part of the year — with his wife of 27 years, Michelle, and their four children, Sophia (a BYU student); Zachary (just back from an LDS mission to Japan), Wyatt (just started an LDS mission to South Africa) and 16-year-old Bella (“who just started to drive,” announces her dad. “Yikes!”).
But good luck finding him. He’s as easy to track as a tsunami. He might be in the U.K., where he produces, promotes and stars in shows and plays and appears in the occasional reality TV show. He might be in Branson, Missouri, where he owns and operates the Andy Williams Theater. He might be touring anywhere in America, or maybe Australia, or the Far East, with his nostalgic "Jimmy Osmond's '70s Jukebox" show or his "Moon River and Me" tribute to Andy Williams.
It’s always been like this. Perpetual motion. Osmond is 55 years old and he’s spent 52 of them in show business — ever since Andy Williams introduced the newest Osmond to the world on "The Andy Williams Show" that ran weekly on CBS in the 1960s and featured as regular guests the rest of the Osmonds.
Jimmy Osmond was 3, so he has no cognitive memory of this actually occurring, but videotape has preserved it for posterity (you can see it on YouTube; that’s him singing “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”).
After that, life happened fast.
He was 5 when he recorded a song, “My Little Darling,” that ended up being a runaway hit in Japan, earning a gold record. At 6 he was doing his Sinatra impression in Vegas — and one of Elvis (in front of Elvis), too. When he was 9 his recording of “Long-haired Lover from Liverpool,” shot to No. 1 in England, moving him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person ever to top the charts.
By the time he was 14, he was living on his own in Japan so he could host his own TV show. At 15 he opened a restaurant, “Jimmy’s,” in Provo and started buying real estate and partnering in a mortgage company. In his late teens he was producing and promoting shows for the likes of Michael Jackson and producing movies and commercials for television.
Most of this he did apart from the rest of the family, which turned out to be a good thing when bad investments, high interest rates and unscrupulous business partners nearly bankrupted the Osmond empire in the early 1980s. Not yet 21, Jimmy Osmond was able to plug his finger in the dike to help settle the ship.
All the while, he never stopped performing, although he never viewed performing as the rainbow’s end.
“I’ve always looked at show business as a hobby,” he says. “I think that’s healthy. The only way I’ve ever had any money that’s stuck, which isn’t much, has been in real estate.”
In 1985 he was able to buy back from the bank the massive Osmond Studio in Orem that had been lost two years earlier. In 1987 he bought Osmond Real Estate, which he still owns. In 1990 he sold the studio — at a profit — but kept the adjoining land that he developed and sold off as building lots.
In the early 1990s he bought two theaters in Branson, the little town in southern Missouri that had transformed itself into a kind of Las Vegas-lite. He turned one of them into the Osmond Family Theater and invited his siblings to perform with him there regularly.
By then, Donny and Marie were doing their own thing, but the brothers all moved to Branson, as did George and Olive Osmond, who bought a home two blocks from the theater. For more than a decade, until the early 2000s, the Osmonds stayed put, did two shows a day at Jimmy’s theater, ate sandwiches at their parents’ house, and let their fans come to them.
• • •
“I owe everything to my family,” says Jimmy Osmond, his disposition as upbeat at 55 as when he was the "Long-haired Lover from Liverpool" four decades ago. “I never would have done anything without their hard work and their trust in me. My relationship to them is so important to me.”
The Osmonds have had their share of challenges, he attests.
“Do you know any family that doesn’t have problems?” he says. “It seems like we’ve had every problem any family can get, from health to financial issues to whatever. But somehow we’ve weathered the storms and here we are. The truth is, we are solid. Nothing that the world can give us means more than the solidarity we have with one another.”
As of this year, he’s stopped performing with his brothers. Alan and Wayne have retired from the stage because of health issues, Donny has his long-running act with Marie in Las Vegas to keep him occupied and Merrill and Jay are touring with their own two-man show.
“I was the go-to guy for so many years, but now we’re at that point in our lives where everybody’s doing their thing and doing it successfully. Everyone’s filling their buckets with what they need personally,” says Jimmy.
“Besides,” he adds, “Nobody wants the little brother telling them what to do.”
As for his run, “If it ended tomorrow,” he says, “I’m OK.”
But it won’t.
The next year is booked solid, beginning in November when "The Andy Williams Ozark Mountain Christmas Show" will begin a month and a half run in Branson, with Jimmy singing his mentor’s hits, along with a few of his own.
To explain the inertia that keeps him performing, Jimmy Osmond remembers a conversation he had with Andy Williams a few years before the legendary singer died in 2012.10 comments on this story
“I asked him why he kept working,” he says. “He told me that he’d stopped for a while and did nothing but play golf. Then he said, ‘I felt like a concert pianist with his hands cut off. I just had to do what I was trained to do. When I don’t, I’m unhappy.’”
“I think that’s true of anybody who’s found success and fulfillment in what they do,” says the last in a long line of original Osmonds. “An entertainer doesn’t have to be the star of anything, but you have to do what you are trained to do.
"It’s hard to give it up if you don’t have to.”