Mickey Gilley, Country Star Who Helped Inspire ‘Urban Cowboy,’ Dies at 86
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, who was a former manager of the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre, died Saturday, May 7. He had been performing since last month, but was suffering from declining health for the past week.
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” He passed away peacefully with his family, close friends and 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 was the recipient of six Academy of Country Music Awards and also performed as an actor on Murder She Writes 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. The singer stated that he would not do it any other way.
” I am doing exactly the things that I want. He said, “I play golf, fly my plane, and perform at my Branson, Missouri theater.” “I love performing 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 for me to express my gratitude for my involvement in Urban Cowboy .. It had a tremendous impact on my career and it still does .”
The soundtrack featured such hits as Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” Boz Skaggs’ “Look What You’ve Done For Me” and Gilley’s “Stand by Me”. It also promoted pearl snap shirts and steel guitars, as well as mechanical bulls and longneck beers 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. It was soon destroyed by fire.
An upscale version of the old Gilley’s nightclub opened in Dallas in 2003. Gilley has moved to Branson in recent years.
He has been married three times, most recently with Cindy Loeb Gilley. He had four children with Geraldine Garrett, his first wife, and Vivian McDonald, his second wife.
A native of Natchez, Mississippi. Gilley learned boogie-woogie piano at Ferriday, Louisiana with Lewis and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart. He was also a future evangelist. He would sneak into Louisiana clubs to hear rhythm and blues, just like Lewis. 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 has had health problems in the past. He underwent brain surgery in August 2008 after specialists diagnosed hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by an increase in fluid in the cranium. Gilley, who had suffered from short-term memory impairment, credited the surgery for preventing the onset 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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