NEW YORK – Country star Mickey Gilley, whose namesake Texas Honky-Tonk inspired the 1980 film Urban Cowboy and a nationwide surge of western-themed nightspots, has died. He was 86.
Gilley died Saturday in Branson, Missouri, where he was helping run the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theater. He had only performed last month but had been ailing for the past week.
“He passed away peacefully with his family and close friends by his side,” read a statement from Mickey Gilley Associates.
Gilley — cousin of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis — opened Gilley’s, “the world’s biggest honky tonk,” in Pasadena, Texas, in the early 1970s. By mid-decade he was a successful club owner and had his first commercial success with Room Full of Roses. He began releasing 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.”
In all, he had 39 top 10 country hits and 17 number 1 songs. A recipient of six Academy of Country Music Awards, he has also worked as an occasional actor, appearing in 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, celebrating his 65th birthday. Not that he would do anything differently, the singer said.
“I do exactly what I want. I play golf, fly my plane, and perform at my theater in Branson, Missouri,” he said. “I love doing my show for the people.”
Meanwhile, the massive nightspot’s attractions, including its famous mechanical bull, led to the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, billed by many as a rural version of Travolta’s 1977 disco hit Saturday Night Fever is seen. The Gilley’s Club-inspired film 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. This film had a huge impact on my career and still does.”
The soundtrack included hits like Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love”, Boz Scaggs “Look What You’ve Done for Me” and Gilley Snap-Shirts’ “Stand by Me”, longneck beers, the steel guitar and mechanical bulls throughout the country.
But the club closed in 1989 after Gilley and business partner Sherwood Cryer fell out over how the club should be run. 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 has been 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 native of Natchez, Mississippi, Gilley grew up poor and studied boogie-woogie piano in Ferriday, Louisiana with Lewis and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart, the future evangelist. Like Lewis, he snuck into the windows of Louisiana clubs to hear rhythm and blues. He moved to Houston to work construction, but played nights out on the local club scene and recorded and toured for years before making his mark in the ’70s.
Gilley had had 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 skull. Gilley had suffered from short-term memory loss and credited the surgery with stopping the onset of dementia.
He underwent surgery again in 2009 after falling off a step, forcing him to cancel scheduled performances in Branson. In 2018, he suffered a broken ankle and fractured right shoulder in a car accident.
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https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/05/07/mickey-gilley-who-helped-inspire-urban-cowboy-dies-at-86/ Mickey Gilley, inspiration for Urban Cowboy, dies aged 86