In 1959, while in Italy, Armstrong became seriously ill prompting Sullivan to board the next flight to the Mediterranean. After fully recovering, Armstrong took the stage at the Stardust in Las Vegas and his performance was televised live on The Ed Sullivan Show. On that show, he performed a duet of “S’Wonderful” with opera singer Eileen Farrell. He and his combo also performed “Now You Has Jazz” and the fan favorite “When the Saints Go Marching In”. His infectious personality was always a draw for other performers. On another Sullivan show, Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed “Jazz in a Mellow Mood” and “Duke’s Place” together.
In March of 1961, Armstrong appeared on Sullivan right after returning from a tour of Africa as “Goodwill Ambassador” for the State Department. Ed explained that during his visit to the Republic of Congo, a temporary truce was called in the Civil War so that both sides could see Louis perform. Following Sullivan’s introduction, Armstrong sang “That’s My Home,” “Back Home in Indiana,” “Blueberry Hill,” and a few other songs while pictures from his trip were shown.
Sullivan took his show to the troops whenever he could, and often Louis would join him. In October of 1961, Armstrong, Connie Francis and Rowan and Martin performed in West Berlin. Louis’ last performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was coincidentally another military show. In December of 1962, Sullivan took the show to Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Armstrong’s rendition of “Blueberry Hill” and “Mack the Knife” rallied the troops.
As a known supporter of civil rights, Sullivan always stood by Armstrong. Ed has been quoted as saying that “As a Catholic, it was inevitable that I’d despise intolerance, because Catholics suffered more than their share of it. As I grew up, the causes of minorities were part and parcel of me.” In 1959, Sullivan invited Armstrong to be his guest at an elite country club. When the staff refused to allow Armstrong to enter, they received a tongue-lashing from Ed, and subsequently allowed Armstrong to enter. The friendship between the two lasted until the very end. Sullivan was an honorary pall bearer at Armstrong’s funeral after he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1971.
Armstrong received many honors and awards, including The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, eleven recordings selected to be in the Grammy Hall of Fame, a commemorative stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service, induction into eight different Halls of Fame and having the New Orleans’ International Airport named The Louis Armstrong International Airport. Perhaps the most impressive honor was when Louis’ recording of “Hello, Dolly!” knocked The Beatles off the charts in 1964, making him the oldest musician in Billboard’s history to have a #1 hit.