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Mickey Gilley, singer whose club inspired ‘Urban Cowboy,’ dies at 86


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Mickey Gilley, a country singer-songwriter who crossed over into mainstream pop culture after his namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” died May 7 in Branson, Mo. He was 86.

News of his death was confirmed by his managers at 117 Entertainment Group. The cause was not disclosed. He had recently completed a road tour, performing in 10 shows in April.

Mr. Gilley began performing in the 1950s but found little success before opening opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky tonk,” in Pasadena, Tex., in the early 1970s. By mid-decade, he was a successful club owner and was tasting his first commercial success as a singer 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.”

Such hit songs as “Stand By Me” and “Lonely Nights” created a bridge from the artist’s country roots to an ascension on pop charts and were credited with popularizing the Urban Cowboy movement.

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

Meanwhile, Mr. Gilley’s giant nightspot, which included a mechanical bull, led to the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” directed by James Bridges and starring John Travolta and Debra Winger. The film was based on an Esquire article by Aaron Latham about the relationship between two regulars at the club.

The soundtrack included such hits as Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” Boz Scaggs’s “Look What You’ve Done to Me” and Mr. 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.

“I thank John Travolta every night before bed for keeping my career alive,” Mr. Gilley told the Associated Press 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.”

Mickey Leroy Gilley was born March 9, 1936, in Natchez, Miss. He grew up across the Mississippi River from Ferriday, La., where he learned to play boogie-woogie piano and sing with his cousins, rock-and-roll star Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart, the future evangelist. They often sneaked into clubs to listen to rhythm and blues.

Mr. Gilley moved to Houston and work in construction before his career blossomed in the 1970s.

His Texas nightclub shut down in 1989 and was destroyed by fire soon afterward. He had lived in recent years in Branson, where he performed in a theater that bore his name.

Mr. Gilley was married three times, most recently to the former Cindy Loeb. He had four children, three with his first wife, Geraldine Garrett, and one with his second, Vivian McDonald.



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