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‘Tonight’ Show Bandleader Jose Melis Dies

April 26, 2005

PHOENIX (AP) _ Former ``Tonight″ show bandleader Jose Melis, who led the orchestra for Jack Paar and traded jokes with the talk show host, has died. He was 85.

Melis died from a respiratory infection April 7 at Boswell Memorial Hospital in Sun City, his son, Michael Melis, said Monday.

As bandleader for the ``Tonight″ show from 1957 to 1962, Melis also became a well-loved personality whose Cuban accent endeared him to many fans, his son said.

``He was really a showman,″ said his daughter, Suzanne Golembieski, of East Hampton, Conn. ``He had a lot of charisma. You could see the audience warm to him.″

Jose Melis Guiu was born in Havana in 1920. He immigrated to the United States when he was 16 to train as a classical pianist at the Cambridge School of Music in Massachusetts. By that time, Melis had already graduated from the Havana Conservatory at age 10. Melis was studying at the Juilliard School in New York when he was drafted into the Army in 1943.

In the military, Melis led an orchestra at U.S.O. shows and met Paar. Their collaboration in television included variety shows on CBS before they landed the ``Tonight″ show.

Notable guests included President Nixon, for whom Melis arranged music when he came on the show to play the piano.

``Dad never told me whether he was a good pianist or not,″ Michael Melis said.

Melis went into semiretirement after Paar’s ``Tonight″ show ended, his son said, especially after he lost some of his sight in the mid-’70s and his hearing in the late-’80s.

Melis moved to Arizona in 2003 to live with his son after living in Bronxville, N.Y., for 50 years.

He is survived by his son, daughter and a brother.

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