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Where Connie Francis is: Legendary singing star performs Saturday night at Coral Springs

By STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@miamiherald.com

Connie_Francis Fifty years after Where the Boys Are, singing star Connie Francis performs Saturday night in Coral Springs, where the older men are.

Francis -- the biggest-selling female recording artist of the '50s and '60s -- has been a star since she was 19, when she remade the old ballad Who's Sorry Now? and sang it on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

At first, Francis didn't want to record the song. She fought her father-manager, a roofer who declared it would boost her career. "I put up a fight for a year and a half," she recalls. "I said to my father, ‘The kids on American Bandstand will laugh me off the show.' He said, ‘Sister, if you don't do it, the only way you'll get on American Bandstand is if you sit on the TV set.' ''

Who's Sorry Now sold a million copies, says Francis, 71, who now splits her time between homes in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Around 1960, Francis' record label, MGM, demanded she also make movies for the company's film studio. Convinced she had no acting talent, Francis said no. Her father insisted she sign because MGM agreed to a 50 percent partnership. Then he told her: "I don't care if they make you partners with Cecil B. DeMille, you still stink."

Her first feature film: the iconic Fort Lauderdale spring break film, Where the Boys Are. Francis' recording of the title song went No. 1 in 15 countries and became her signature hit.

After that, nothing went smoothly for Francis. She temporarily lost her singing voice after cosmetic surgery in the late '60s. In 1974, a rapist sneaked into the star's motel room and attacked her. Again, she couldn't sing in public.

Mental illness plagued Francis throughout the 1980s. She tried to kill herself in 1983 and her father had her committed to a hospital. From '83 to 1991, "I had 17 involuntary mental commitments in different states," she says.

Now, it seems, Francis is back in vogue. Singer Jenna Esposito recently recorded a tribute album, To Connie … Love, Jenna: Jenna Esposito Sings Connie Francis.

Francis says she adores the live album. “I sent her a telegram. I loved it. She's great.”

Married four times, Francis is almost finished writing her second autobiography. She says that although the book will focus on her recovery from schizoaffective disorder, it still will be a fun read.

A sense of humor ‘‘kept me going," Francis says. "Through the darkest hours of my life, I could find something funny in anything."

Connie Francis performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Coral Springs Center For The Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Dr. Tickets cost $45-$75. 954-344-5990 or www.coralspringscenterforthearts.com.

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I interviewed Jenna Esposito recently about her CD in tribute to Connie Francis. Jenna's a great new talent on the scene. Interview is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gxo3C7dj88

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