The Ames Brothers were an immensely successful brotherly quartet in the 1950s, with 49 charting songs and a syndicated television program, The Ames Brothers Show, making them one of the most popular family groups of their era. As a solo musician, Mr. Ames enjoyed several hit records of his own, including a cover of "Try To Remember" from The Fantasticks.
Following the dissolution of the band in 1963, Mr. Ames pursued an acting career, appearing Off-Broadway in The Fantasticks and in a production of The Crucible before making his Broadway debut in Bob Merrill's Carnival!, replacing original lead Jerry Orbach. Mr. Ames remained with Carnival! through two national tours before returning to Broadway once more to originate the role of Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
While Mr. Ames was the descendent of Russian Jewish immigrants, he built the latter half of his career inhabiting stereotypical depictions of Native Americans, primarily on the televised Western Daniel Boone, where he played the half Cherokee character Mingo.
In 1965, while promoting Daniel Boone on The Tonight Show, Mr. Ames demonstrated precision tomahawk throwing for host Johnny Carson. When Mr. Ames' weapon struck the target outline of a cowboy in the groin, Carson ad-libbed the line “I didn’t even know you were Jewish!”, resulting in uproarious audience laughter, which was furthered by the follow-up comment “welcome to Frontier Bris.” The four minute–long laughing fit from the audience is considered to be one of the longest laughs by a studio audience in television history.
Mr. Ames is survived by his wife Jeanne, children Ronald and Sonya, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and step-son Stephen. He is predeceased by his daughter, Marcella.