Mickey Gilley, who shot to country stardom with a string of iconic hits and helped launch the Urban Cowboy craze of the 1980s, has died.
According to a statement from his publicist, Gilley died “peacefully” on Saturday (May 7) in Branson, Mo., “with his family and close friends by his side.” The country legend had just returned from the road, where he played 10 dates in April. He was 86 years old.
Born on March 9, 1936, in Natchez, Miss., Gilley scored his first country hit in 1974 with “Room Full of Roses,” which gave him his first No. 1 single. He went on to place many more hits at the top of the chart over the course of nearly two decades, including “Window Up Above,” “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” “True Love Ways,” “You Don’t Know Me” and more.
Gilley became even more high-profile in the ’80s after the release of the John Travolta film Urban Cowboy, much of which was filmed at his Texas nightclub, Gilley’s. The soundtrack from the film became a smash, and it featured his cover of “Stand by Me,” which reached the top of the country charts and also scored a crossover Top 40 hit.
That mainstream recognition helped him launch an acting career that included roles in Murder She Wrote, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island and Dukes of Hazzard.
Gilley’s chart run was over by the end of the ’80s, but he remained active as a performer at his own theater in Branson until 2009, when he suffered a fall while helping a friend move some furniture that left him temporarily paralyzed. He eventually recovered enough mobility to return to performing, and he later said the accident actually helped him get his life in better order after years of living in what he termed “a partying mode.”
“Back then I was young, I was successful, and I wasn’t paying any attention. I was going so fast through life, and like I tell some people, it’s the old cliche: sometimes you get too close to the forest to see the trees. That was me,” Gilley told the Boot in 2014. “I was going through life like a perfect storm so to speak. And all of a sudden, when I fell and hurt myself, it dawned on me, ‘This could be my last day on Earth. You’d better straighten your act up.”
Gilley earned numerous accolades over the course of his career, including six Academy of Country Music Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. Gilley was also one of only a select few artists to receive the Academy of Country Music’s Triple Crown Awards.
Gilley was preceded in death by his wife, Vivian. He is survived by his wife Cindy Loeb Gilley; his children Kathy, Michael, Gregory and Keith Ray; four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren and his cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart.
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