Country singer Mickey Gilley, whose bar launched ‘Urban Cowboy,’ has died

Country singer Mickey Gilley, whose namesake Texas-sized honky-tonk bar was the birthplace of “Urban Cowboy” music and 1980s fashions, has died at 86 in Branson, Missouri, his page announced on Saturday. Facebook.

Gilley, a first cousin of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, “had just gotten off the road…after playing 10 shows in April,” his Facebook page said.

An employee of the Mickey Gilley Theater in Branson confirmed that he had died but did not know the cause of death.

Gilley’s country hits included upbeat honky-tonk songs like “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time” and “The Power of Positive Drinkin'” and ballads like “A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight) .” But he was best known as the owner of the bar that inspired ‘Urban Cowboy,’ the 1980 film starring John Travolta who danced with Debra Winger and rode a mechanical bull that clashed and tried to knock him down. .

A native of Natchez, Mississippi, Gilley grew up in Ferriday, Louisiana, the son of Arthur Fillmore Gilley and Irene (Lewis) Gilley, who taught him to play the piano. He moved to the Houston, Texas area, where he worked days and sang and played piano in bars at night.

In 1970, he and a partner opened a nightclub in the blue-collar suburb of Pasadena in Houston and named it Gilley`s. It was a cavernous place with a corrugated iron roof and concrete floors, open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. As it became popular, capacity crowds came to see Gilley sing and play piano, as well as the biggest names in country music. the.

At its peak, Gilley’s had a capacity of 6,000, a rodeo arena, recording studio, and a thriving memorabilia business. It billed itself as the world’s largest honky tonk and also featured the mechanical bull on which cowboys, cowgirls and wannabes could test their rodeo skills.

The mechanical bull, known as El Toro, was an integral part of the movie “Urban Cowboy” which made Gilley famous worldwide and one of the main tourist attractions in the Houston area.

“It was, quite simply, the biggest, busiest, rowdiest, loudest, most danceable, wildest Texan of them all,” author Bob Claypool wrote in “Saturday Night at Gilley’s”.

“Urban Cowboy” made Gilley’s a household name and helped spark a surge in country music popularity, as well as a fashion trend. Large western hats, snap-button shirts and boots began to appear not only on the streets of Houston and Dallas, but also in New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

Gilley made a guest appearance in the film and had two songs – “Here Comes the Hurt Again” and “Stand by Me” – on her hit soundtrack album. He then appeared in TV shows such as ‘Murder She Wrote’, ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’.

Her other hit songs include “Roomful of Roses”, “I`m the One Mama Warned You About”, and “Your Memory Ain`t What It Used to Be”.
Gilley was born on March 9, 1936, less than a year after cousins ​​Lewis and Swaggart and the three grew up together in a culture that embraced gambling,
alcohol and religion. The three boys performed at their Assembly of God church.

Lewis would go on to become one of rock’s innovators in the late 1950s with hits such as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”. Swaggart, a theatrical Pentecostal preacher, developed an international television ministry before being overthrown in a 1988 scandal involving a prostitute.

When the “Urban Cowboy” trend faded, so did Gilley’s stardom. The nightclub closed in 1989 amid a falling out between Gilley and her partner. A year later it was destroyed in an arson attack.

Gilley rebounded by becoming a regular performer in the Branson, Missouri country music hotbed, where he built a theater. He also opened a Gilley club in Dallas, but he never enjoyed the success of the original.

In 2009, Gilley was partially paralyzed when he injured his back in a fall while helping a friend move furniture. After therapy, he took over singing at Branson but was unable to play the piano.

Gilley was married twice and had four children.

About James K. Bonnette

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