FILE – Country music legend Mickey Gilley, 80, performs at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. to benefit the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. Gilley, whose namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” and a nationwide wave of Western-themed nightspots, died Saturday, May 7, 2022, at age 86. ( Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star via AP, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — Country star Mickey Gilley, whose namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy” and a nationwide wave of Western-themed nightspots, has died. He was 86.
Gilley died Saturday in Branson, Missouri, where he helped run the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre. He had been performing as recently as last month, but was in failing health over the past week.
“He passed peacefully with his family and close friends by his side,” according a statement from Mickey Gilley Associates.
Gilley — cousin of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis — opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky tonk,” in Pasadena, Texas, in the early 1970s. By mid-decade, he was a successful club owner and had enjoyed his first commercial success with “Room Full of Roses.” He began turning out country hits regularly, including “Window Up Above,” “She’s Pulling Me Back Again” and the honky-tonk anthem “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
Overall, he had 39 Top 10 country hits and 17 No. 1 songs. He received six Academy of Country Music Awards, and also worked on occasion as an actor, with appearances on “Murder She Wrote,” “The Fall Guy,” “Fantasy Island” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“If I had one wish in life, I would wish for more time,” Gilley told The Associated Press in March 2001 as he celebrated his 65th birthday. Not that he’d do anything differently, the singer said.
“I am doing exactly what I want to do. I play golf, fly my airplane and perform at my theater in Branson, Missouri,” he said. “I love doing my show for the people.”
Meanwhile, the giant nightspot’s attractions, including its famed mechanical bull, led to the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger and regarded by many as a countrified version of Travolta’s 1977 disco smash, “Saturday Night Fever.” The film inspired by Gilley’s club was based on an Esquire article by Aaron Latham about the relationship between two regulars at the club.
“I thank John Travolta every night before bed for keeping my career alive,” Gilley told the AP in 2002. “It’s impossible to tell you how grateful I am for my involvement with ‘Urban Cowboy.’ That film had a huge impact on my career, and still does.”
FILE – Mickey Gilley poses with the Triple Crown Award on the red carpet at the 50th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, April 19, 2015. Gilley, whose namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” and a nationwide wave of Western-themed nightspots, died Saturday, May 7, 2022, at age 86. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, File)
The soundtrack included such hits as Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” Boz Scaggs’ “Look What You’ve Done for Me” and Gilley’s “Stand by Me.” The movie turned the Pasadena club into an overnight tourist draw and popularized pearl snap shirts, longneck beers, the steel guitar and mechanical bulls across the country.
But the club shut down in 1989 after Gilley and his business partner Sherwood Cryer feuded over how to run the place. A fire destroyed it soon after.
An upscale version of the old Gilley’s nightclub opened in Dallas in 2003. In recent years, Gilley moved to Branson.
He was married three times, most recently to Cindy Loeb Gilley. He had four children, three with his first wife, Geraldine Garrett, and one with his second, Vivian McDonald.
A Natchez, Mississippi, native, Gilley grew up poor, learning boogie-woogie piano in Ferriday, Louisiana, alongside Lewis and fellow cousin Jimmy Swaggart, the future evangelist. Like Lewis, he would sneak into the windows of Louisiana clubs to listen to rhythm and blues. He moved to Houston to work construction but played the local club scene at night and recorded and toured for years before catching on in the ’70s.
Gilley had suffered health problems in recent years. He underwent brain surgery in August 2008 after specialists diagnosed hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by an increase in fluid in the cranium. Gilley had been suffering from short-term memory loss, and credited the surgery with halting the onset of dementia.
He underwent more surgery in 2009 after he fell off a step, forcing him to cancel scheduled performances in Branson. In 2018, he sustained a fractured ankle and fractured right shoulder in an automobile accident.
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AP file, 2012
Sidney Poitier, the groundbreaking actor and enduring inspiration who transformed how Black people were portrayed on screen and became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for best lead performance and the first to be a top box-office draw, died Jan. 6, 2022. He was 94. Poitier won the best actor Oscar in 1964 for “Lilies of the Field.”
AP file, 2008
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AP file, 2016
Orrin G. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history who was a fixture in Utah politics for more than four decades, died April 23, 2022, at age 88. A staunch conservative on most economic and social issues, he also teamed with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to rights for people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance.
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AP file, 2012
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AP file, 2019
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AP file, 2010
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AP file, 1994
Taylor Hawkins, for 25 years the drummer for Foo Fighters and best friend of frontman Dave Grohl, died during a South American tour with the rock band. He was 50. Hawkins was Alanis Morissette’s touring drummer when he joined Foo Fighters in 1997. He played on the band’s biggest albums including “One by One” and “In Your Honor,” and on hit singles like “Best of You.”
AP file, 2012
Howard Hesseman, best known as the hard-rocking disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever on the sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” died Jan. 28, 2022. In addition to earning two Emmy nominations for his role on “WKRP,” Hesseman also appeared on “Head of the Class” and “One Day at a Time,” along with guest appearances on “That 70’s Show,” among others. The Oregon native also hosted “Saturday Night Live” several times. — CNN
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, 1978
Emilio Delgado, who spent more than 40 years entertaining generations of children playing the Fix-It Shop owner Luis on “Sesame Street,” died March 10, 2022. He was 81. Delgado had cited the PBS show’s importance as a cultural touchstone in the way people of color were depicted on TV. — CNN
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©PBS/Courtesy Everett Collection
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AP file, 2017
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Castle Rock Entertainment/Everett Collections
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AP file, 1962
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AP file, 2010
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AP Images for WWE, File
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AP file, 2016
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AP file, 2009
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Manfred Thierry Mugler
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AP file, 2015
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AP file, 2014
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AP file, 1968
Don Young, who was the longest-serving Republican in the history of the U.S. House, died March 25, 2022. He was 88. Young, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1973, was known for his brusque style. In his later years in office, his off-color comments and gaffes sometimes overshadowed his work.
AP file, 2019
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AP file, 2009
Lawrence N. Brooks
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AP file, 2019
Charles McGee, a Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 fighter combat missions over three wars and later helped to bring attention to the Black pilots who had battled racism at home to fight for freedom abroad, died Jan. 16, 2022. He was 102.
AP file, 2019
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AP file, 2012
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AP file, 1946
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AP file, 1975
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AP file, 1964
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AP file, 1981
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AP file, 2010
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AP file, 1988
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AP file, 2004
Johnnie A. Jones Sr.
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AP file, 2019
Gary Brooker, the Procol Harum frontman who sang one of the 1960s’ most enduring hits, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” died Feb. 19, 2022. He was 76. Brooker was singer and keyboard player with the band, which had a huge hit with its first single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” With its Baroque-flavored organ solo and mysterious opening line – “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor” — the song became one of the signature tunes of the 1967 “Summer of Love.”
AP file, 2006
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AP file, 2015
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