Next month, in Aspen, Colo., she goes on trial for felony manslaughter in the March 21 shooting of her lover, international skiing star Vladimir ("Spider") Sabich. "The manslaughter charge is ridiculous," says Williams. "She could get up to 10 years. I think if it weren't for the children and me, she would have gone crazy." Their three children, Noelle, 12, Christian, 11, and Robert Andrew, 6, have been living with Claudine since the couple divorced in 1975 after 13 years of marriage.
Claudine's refusal to leave Aspen after Sabich's death surprised Williams. "I said to her, 'Jesus, let's get out of here,' " he remembers. "She said, 'No, I want to stay. This is where I'm going to raise my children.' She made them go back to school the next day. Very recently she bought an old Victorian house. The people in town feel it takes a lot of guts and proves she isn't running away."
Williams, one of four singing brothers from Wall Lake, Iowa, and Paris-born Claudine met in Las Vegas in 1960. "She was the head dancer at the Folies Bergère," he recalls. "She had just come over from France. Her mother was a doctor and her father was an X-ray technician." They met when he helped push her stalled car. "I was walking back to the hotel," Williams says, "and there she was."
Although Williams was a headliner, Claudine wasn't doing badly. At 19, she was earning $800 a week. "I married her for her money," he jokes. "She thought the whole United States was like Las Vegas. She took a taxi from the L.A. airport and tried to pay the driver with a gambling chip."
A year and a half later they were married. "It was very difficult to live together compatibly," Williams says. "Her interests were so different from mine. I was interested in the Establishment. She would be playing tennis with Peter Fonda, and I would be playing golf with Bing Crosby."
Claudine's career blossomed after she sang on the TV serial Run For Your Life. A subsequent recording, Claudine, sold 600,000 copies and brought her $50,000. With $40,000 of it, she bought a lot in Malibu. But by 1974 Claudine had moved to Aspen. "I don't know why we separated when we did," Williams reflects. "We probably shouldn't have gotten married to begin with. She was stifling me in a way. She's a very strong lady."
Williams professes to understand her feeling for Sabich. "She loved Spider," he says. "That was good enough for me. I'm sure he was a really first-rate fellow. According to Claudine, he was just wonderful with the kids. He used to take Christian on two-day hiking trips, something I never did."
Whatever happens, Williams says he will always harbor "memories, friendship, respect and a kind of love" for
Claudine. "But," he adds, "I don't think you can go back." He remembers trips to Paris when he was a young man. "I would always go to the Louvre, and I used to see this little girl roller-skating all the time on one skate. She was 8 or 9 years old and she lived by the Pont Neuf." Years later Andy Williams discovered that the little girl was Claudine.
She needs me very much right now," says singer Andy Williams of his ex-wife, Claudine Longet. "I'm going to be as supportive as I can." In his suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where he is appearing, Williams, 45, looks grimly ahead to the ordeal he will share with Claudine, 34.