Mario Lanza (born Alfred Arnold Cocozza; January 31, 1921 – October 7, 1959) was an American tenor, actor and Hollywood film star of the late 1940s and the 1950s.
Lanza began studying to be a professional singer at the age of 16. After appearing at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947, Lanza signed a seven-year film contract with Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who saw his performance and was impressed by his singing. Prior to that, the adult Lanza had sung only two performances of an opera. The following year (1948), however, he sang the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in New Orleans.
His film début for MGM was in That Midnight Kiss (1949) with Kathryn Grayson and Ethel Barrymore. The following year, in The Toast of New Orleans, his featured popular song “Be My Love” became his first million-selling hit. In 1951, he played the role of tenor Enrico Caruso , his idol, in the biopic, The Great Caruso, which produced another million-seller with “The Loveliest Night of the Year” (a song which used the melody of Sobre las Olas). The Great Caruso was the top-grossing film that year.
The title song of his next film, Because You’re Mine, was his final million-selling hit song. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. After recording the soundtrack for his next film, The Student Prince, he embarked upon a protracted battle with Studio Head Dore Schary arising from artistic differences with director Curtis Bernhardt, and was eventually dismissed by MGM.
Lanza was known to be “rebellious, tough, and ambitious”, and during most of his film career, he suffered from addictions to overeating and alcohol which had a serious effect on his health and his relationships with directors, producers and, occasionally, other cast members. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper writes that “his smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak”. She adds that he was the “last of the great romantic performers”. He made three more films before dying of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 38. At the time of his death in 1959 he was still “the most famous tenor in the world”.