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Gary Busey's Experience as an Actor and Musician Prepared Him For 'The Buddy Holly Story'

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Gary Busey's Academy Award-nominated performance in The Buddy Holly Story (1978) remains one of his crowning achievements as an actor and a musician.

Busey stars as fellow Texas native Buddy Holly in one of the better rock biopics to ever reach the big screen. His acting chops carry the film at times as we follow Holly from playing a roller rink in Lubbock to his final live show in Clear Lake, Iowa. In between, we witness his contentious interactions with the Nashville establishment, his split from backing band The Crickets (played by Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith) and his love story with his wife, Maria Elena Holly (played by Maria Richwine, the first Latina Playboy bunny).

The two rockers killed in the same plane crash as Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, were played by Gilbert Melgar and Busey's buddy from Tulsa, Gailard Sartain, respectively.

Busey's Oscar nomination (Best Actor in a Leading Role) for portraying an early rock influencer followed numerous appearances in Hollywood films (including Lee Van Cleef's The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)) and on such classic Western TV series as Bonanza and Gunsmoke.

The title role also called on Busey to sing "That'll Be the Day," "Not Fade Away," "It's So Easy," "Rave On," "Maybe Baby," "True Love Ways" and other Buddy Holly and the Crickets hits.

Like a lot of folks his age, Busey associates Holly's music with simpler times.

"My good friend in high school had a paper route and he said, 'Would you help me throw it?'," Busey told Rolling Stone in 2018. "When we had the transistor radio and we heard [Buddy Holly's] "Peggy Sue" alongside [Jerry Lee Lewis'] "Great Balls of Fire" and [Elvis Presley's] "All Shook Up," we threw the paper route 20 minutes faster than we did without the rock & roll. That should tell you a lot about [raises voice] ROCK 'N' ROLL HERE TO STAY! It's an adrenaline shot to your whole body."

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Just as he was a seasoned actor prior to The Buddy Holly Story, Busey went into the project as an experienced musician. In between his paper route days and his role as Holly, Busey formed The Rubber Band at Oklahoma State University with future Tractors member Ron Getman. The band later moved to Los Angeles and changed its name to Carp.

The Buddy Holly Story was adapted by Robert Gittler from Buddy Holly: His Life and Music, the 1975 biography of Holly by John Goldrosen, and was directed by Steve Rash.

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Gary Busey's Experience as an Actor and Musician Prepared Him For 'The Buddy Holly Story'