Connie Francis not sorry now

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Nobody was more surprised to hear “Who’s Sorry Now?” on American Bandstand for the first time than Connie Francis.

After 16 flop records, the singer had given up her dreams of musical stardom. Six monthsinto her college studies, Francis tuned into the popular television program and got the shock of her life. On New Year’s Day 1958, Dick Clark not only played the cover of the 1923 hit Francis recorded at the insistence of her father, he declared she was “heading straight for the No. 1 spot.”

“When he played that song, I knew my life would never be the same,” Francis recalls during a telephone interview from her Florida home. “And it wasn’t.”

Though “Who’s Sorry Now?” only reached No. 4, Clark’s endorsement helped make it the first of 16 Top 10 singles Francis scored during the late 1950s and ’60s. The singer, who performs with a 21-piece orchestra Saturday at at the Castro Theatre, considers the TV show host her “absolute biggest supporter.”

In addition to chart-toppers “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” and “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You,” Francis starred in such feature films as “Where the Boys Are” — she’ll make a guest appearance at a screening tonight at the Clay Theatre in San Francisco.

For all her success, Francis faced plenty of adversity as well. After a 1974 performance, the prolific performer was sexually assaulted in her hotel room. Francis admits: “Nobody could even say the word ‘rape’ in front of me for seven years.”

When she agreed to discuss the experience for the first time on television, producers insisted Francis use the word “assault” rather than “rape.” She refused to appear, remaining quiet on the subject for a decade.

“I never talked to anybody about it,” she says. “Not my family, not my psychiatrist, not to a friend, not anybody.”

Her 1984 autobiography “Who’s Sorry Now?” gave Francis an opportunity to share her experience. The book proved not only cathartic, it led President Reagan to appoint the singer as head of his Task Force on Violent Crimes. In the 20-plus years since, she has worked tirelessly to educate law enforcement officers and reform rape victims’ rights.

Still energetic at nearly 70, Francis continues to balance victim’s advocacy and performances around the world. In her free time, she brags of having “a black belt in shopping” — one of her favorite reasons for visiting the Bay Area, she says — and shares a fascination with daytime television.

“It’s so ridiculous,” Francis chuckles about her soap opera addiction. “My life has been more dramatic than anything they could ever write!”

Connie Francis visits “Where the Boys Are”

Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. today

Tickets: $9.75

Contact: (415) 267-4893

Note: Francis also will appear at 8 p.m. Saturday in a sold-out concert performance at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. She returns to the Castro on Oct. 13. For details about her concert appearances, call (866) 468-3399 or visit http://www.empireplushroom.com/

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