Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1912, Pierino Ronald Como was the seventh of the 13 children of Pietro Como (1877–1945), a mill hand and an amateur baritone, and Lucia Travaglini (1883–1961). Pietro and Lucia emigrated from the town of Palena, in the province of Chieti, Abruzzo, in 1910 and Perry was the first of their children born in the United States. The Comos spoke Italian at home so Perry did not begin speaking English until he entered school. They had a second-hand organ; as soon as Perry was able to walk, he would pump the bellows, and play music he had heard by ear.
Perry started helping his family at age 10, working before and after school in Steve Fragapane's barber shop for 50¢ a week. By age 13, he had graduated to having his own chair in the Fragapane barbershop, although he stood on a box to tend to his customers. It was also around this time that young Como lost his week's wages in a dice game. Filled with shame, he locked himself in his room and did not come out until hunger got the better of him. His father told him he was entitled to make a mistake and that he hoped his son would never do anything worse than this.
When Perry was 14, his father became unable to work because of a severe heart condition: he and his brothers became the support of the household. Since they were very young, papà Pietro had all his children attend music lessons even if he could barely afford them. Perry learned to play many different instruments, but never had a voice lesson; as a teenager he was a trombone player in the town's brass band, played guitar, sang at weddings, and was an organist at church.
He was a member of the Canonsburg Italian Band along with the father of singer Bobby Vinton, bandleader Stan Vinton, who was often a customer at his barbershop. Yes, Perry wanted to become the best barber in Canonsburg and he mastered the skills well enough to have his own shop at age 14. One of his regular customers at the Fragapane barbershop owned a Greek coffee house that included a barbershop area; he asked Perry if he liked to take over that portion of his shop. In a short time, Perry had so much work he had to hire two barbers to help him. His customers worked mainly at the nearby steel mills. They were well-paid, and enjoyed Perry's singing. He became so popular as a "wedding barber" in the Greek community that he was asked to provide his services in Pittsburgh and Ohio.
In 1929, 17-year-old Perry met Roselle Belline at a picnic, where he was with another girl. At the end of the gathering, everyone was around the campfire singing and when it came Perry's turn, he chose More Than You Know, with his eyes on Roselle for the entire song.
In 1932, Perry left Canonsburg, moving to Meadville, Pennsylvania, where his uncle had a barber shop in the Hotel Conneaut. Once, Perry, Roselle, and their friends went to nearby Cleveland, to the Silver Slipper Ballroom where Freddy Carlone and his orchestra were playing. Carlone invited anyone who thought he might have singing talent to come up and sing with his band. Perry was terrified, but his friends urged him onto the stage. Carlone was so impressed with his performance that he offered him a job.
Perry was not certain whether he should accept the offer - he earned $125 per week from his barbershop while the job with Carlone paid $28 per week - so he returned home to talk with his father. Papà Pietro told him if he did not try this, he would never know whether or not he could be a professional singer.
Perry and Roselle were married in Meadville on July 31, 1933; four days later, Como joined Freddy Carlone's band and began working with them. Roselle returned home to Canonsburg knowing that her husband was going to be on the road for the next 18 months.
In 1936, Perry moved to Ted Weems's Orchestra and his first recording dates. He got a raise, $50 per week, and his first chance for nationwide exposure. Ted Weems and his orchestra were based in Chicago, they were regulars on radio shows such as The Jack Benny Program and Fibber McGee and Molly, and they had a weekly radio program on the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Perry's first child, Ronnie, was born in 1940 while the band was working in Chicago; Perry left the performance to be at his wife's side even though he was threatened with dismissal if he did so. The Comos decided road life was no place to raise a child, and Roselle and the baby went back to Canonsburg.
In late 1942, Perry left the Weems band, returned to Canonsburg, tired of life on the road without his wife and young son. While he was negotiating for a store lease to re-open a barber shop, he had a call from Tommy Rockwell at General Artists Corporation, who was offering him his own Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio show and to get him a recording contract. The offer meant staying in New York with no more road tours. Roselle told him: "You can always get another barber shop if it doesn't work out!" Perry went on the air for CBS on March 12, 1943. Rockwell's next move was to book Como into the renowned Copacabana Night Club for two weeks beginning on June 10, 1943. One week later he signed his first RCA Victor contract and three days after that cut his first record for the company, "Goodbye, Sue."
From then, he became reknown for his smooth baritone crooning and his career lasted over five decades. He recorded exclusively for the RCA Victor label, sold millions of records, and pioneered a weekly musical variety television show that set the standards for the genre and proved to be one of the most successful in television history. He continued hosting the Kraft Music Hall variety program on a monthly basis until 1967.
In 1945, Perry had his first million-selling hit, "Till the End of Time." It was among many songs including "Prisoner of Love" that topped the charts. Some of his best-known numbers were "Hot Diggity" and "Papa Loves Mambo."
In the official RCA Records Billboard magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these few words: "50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all."
Perry received the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance; five Emmys from 1955 to 1959; a Christopher Award (1956) and shared a Peabody Award with good friend Jackie Gleason in 1956. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1987. He has the distinction of having three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, television, and music.
In 1958, the Comos celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with a family trip to Italy.
Bing Crosby once described Perry Como as, "the man who invented casual". His preference for casual clothing did not keep him from being named one of the Best Dressed Men beginning in 1946, and he had his own line of sports/casual men's clothing made by Bucknell circa early 1950s.
Perry was an accomplished golfer; there was always time to try getting in a game of golf. His colleagues held an annual Perry Como Golf Tournament to honor him and his love for the game. In what must have been one of his favorite shows of his weekly series, Como's guests on the October 3, 1962, broadcast were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. The four golfers played 18 holes for the cameras at Sands Point, New York, where the Comos made their home in the television years.
His career saw a resurgence in the 1970s with songs like "It's Impossible," "And I Love You So" and several best-selling Christmas albums.
Perry suffered a debilitating fall from a stage platform in 1971 while taping Perry Como's Winter Show in Hollywood. The ailing Como chartered a jet back to his home and doctors in Florida, where an exam showed it had been seriously broken. His knee was re-set and placed in a cast with a recuperation time of eight months.
In 1993, he was successfully treated for bladder cancer.
When Roselle died suddenly on August 12, 1998, at age 84, the couple had been married for 65 years, and he was devastated. Perry died three years later in his sleep, on May 12, 2001, at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, six days before his eighty-ninth birthday. Perry and Roselle are buried at Riverside Memorial Park, Tequesta (Palm Beach County), Florida.