Mickey Gilly, the country singer who helped inspire the movie Urban Cowboy, has died at the age of 86

NEW YORK (Associated Press) — Country star Mickey Gilly, whose name inspired Texas honky-tonk movie 1980’s “Urban Cowboy” and a national wave of Western-themed nightclubs, has died. He was 86 years old.

Gilly died Saturday in Branson, Missouri, where he helped run the Mickey Gilly Grand Shanghai Theater. He’s been performing as recently as last month, but has been in poor health for the past week.

“He passed away peacefully with his family and close friends at his side,” according to a statement from Mickey Gilly Associates.

Gilly—a cousin of rock and roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis—opened the Gillies, “the world’s largest honky-tonk” in Pasadena, Texas, in the early 1970s. By the middle of the decade, he was a successful club owner and enjoyed his first commercial success with “Room Full of Roses”. He began directing country songs regularly, including “Window Up Above,” “She’s Pulling Me Back Again,” and the honky-tonk anthem “Don’t the Girls all get a beautiful time at the Closing Time.”

Overall, he had 39 Top 10 Country hits and 17 No. 1 hits. He received six Academy Country Music Awards, and has also occasionally worked as an actor, with appearances on “Murder She Wrote”, “The Fall Guy” and “Fantasy Island” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”.

“If I had one wish in life, I would wish for more time,” Gilly told the Associated Press in March 2001 as he celebrated his 65th birthday. Not that he would do anything differently, said the singer.

“I do exactly what I want to do. I play golf, fly my plane and perform in my theater in Branson, Missouri. I love doing my show for people.”

Meanwhile, giant nightclub attractions, including the famous mechanical bull, led to the 1980 movie “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, and considered by many to be a standardized version of Travolta’s 1977 disco smash, “Saturday Night Fever.” . The movie inspired by The Jelly Club was based on an Esquire article by Aaron Latham about the relationship between two regular players at the club.

“I thank John Travolta every night before bed for keeping my career alive,” Gilly told The Associated Press in 2002. “It’s impossible to tell you how grateful I am to be involved in ‘Urban Cowboy.’ This movie had a huge impact on my career, and it still does.”

The soundtrack included songs such as “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee, Boz Scaggs’ “Look What You Have Done for Me” and Gilley’s “Stand by Me”. The movie turned the Pasadena Clubhouse into an overnight tourist attraction and famous pearl shirts, long-necked beers, steel guitars and mechanical bulls all over the country.

But the club closed in 1989 after Gilly and partner Sherwood Cryer squabbled over how to run the venue. It was destroyed by a fire shortly after.

An upscale version of Gili’s old nightclub opened in Dallas in 2003. In recent years, Gili has moved to Branson.

He was married three times, most recently to Cindy Loeb Gilly. He had four children, three from his first wife, Geraldine Jarrett, and one from his second wife, Vivian MacDonald.

A native of Natchez, Mississippi, Gilly grew up poor, learning laminate piano in Ferriday, Louisiana, alongside Lewis and fellow cousin Jimmy Swaggart, a future missionary. Like Lewis, he would sneak into the windows of Louisiana clubs to listen to rhythm and blues. He moved to Houston to work in construction but played the local club scene by night, recording and touring for years before joining them in the 1970s.

My generation has struggled with health problems in recent years. He underwent brain surgery in August 2008 after specialists diagnosed hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by excess fluid in the skull. Gilly had short-term memory loss, and he credited the surgery with stopping the onset of dementia.

He underwent another surgery in 2009 after he fell off a stride, forcing him to cancel Branson’s scheduled shows. In 2018, he fractured his ankle and fractured his right shoulder in a car accident.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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