Jimmie Rodgers, a pop star from the '50s and '60s with multiple Top 10 country hits, passed away on Jan. 18, 2021 in Palm Desert, California. Per the Associated Press, the 87 year old died from kidney disease and had recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus).
Rodgers was born in Camas, Washington on Sept. 18, 1933. While stationed in Nashville by the Air Force, Rodgers, a budding performer, first heard future hit "Honeycomb." The Bob Merrill composition, previously recorded by Georgie Shaw, helped break Rodgers' career when he performed it in New York on the same Arthur Godfrey-hosted talent show most know about from Patsy Cline's life story.
His 1957 single "Honeycomb" topped the all-genre Billboard Top 100 and the R&B charts. It also reached No. 7 on the country charts. By the end of 1958, Rodgers' smooth vocal delivery landed four more songs in the pop and country Top 15s: "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Oh Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again," "Secretly" and "Are You Really Mine." Each single was issued by Roulette Records which, as we've since learned from bubblegum pop icon Tommy James, was mob-affiliated.
Aside from connecting with a rock audience, Rodgers embraced the folk revival by finding chart success with "English Country Garden" (an update on traditional song "Country Garden") and such familiar tunes as "The Wreck of the 'John B'."
He also tried his hand at acting, funding and co-starring in the war film Back Door to Hell alongside young Jack Nicholson. Before that, Rodgers starred in the Civil War-era film The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come.
Later hits include his 1966 recording of future Elvis Presley standard "It's Over" and the Grammy-nominated 1967 single "Child of Clay."
A mysterious 1967 incident slowed down Rodgers' career. On Dec. 1 of that year, he suffered traumatic head injuries after the car he was driving got pulled over in Los Angeles by an off-duty police officer.
Whatever happened, Rodgers wound up with a fractured skull. Rodgers had no memories of what happened after being pulled over.
"I rolled the window down to ask what was the matter," he told the Toronto Star in 1987 (as quoted by the Washington Post). "That's the last thing I remember."
The LAPD issued a report a few days later, stating that Rodgers had slipped, fell and hit his head on the scene. Physicians who'd initially believed that Rodgers had been beaten with a blunt instrument concurred with the LAPD's statement.
Rodgers later filed an $11 million lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, claiming police brutality. Although the city denied Rodgers' claims, it did suspend all three officers responding to the scene for improper procedures, such as leaving Rodgers alone in his car with head injuries. The officers and the LA Fire and Police Protective League countersued, citing slander.
Neither suit reached trial, with Rodgers receiving a $200,000 settlement from the city.
James' 2010 autobiography Me, the Mob and the Music speculates that Roulette Records' mafia-affiliated boss, Morris Levy, arranged the attack to scare Rodgers from continuing to ask about unpaid royalties.
By the end of the '60s, Rodgers returned to the charts and to the television variety show circuit. He even had his own short-lived ABC series.
By the '80s, he had own theater in the country music hotbed of Branson, Missouri.
To this day, Rodgers get confused with an early influencer on country music, "The Singing Brakeman" Jimmie Rodgers. They're very different talents, and the pop Rodgers was born the year country's Rodgers passed away.
Rodgers is survived by his wife, Mary Louise Biggerstaff, as well as five children from three marriages.