Portrait of Mickey Gilley at the piano
GAB Archive/Redferns

Mickey Gilley, a Country Hitmaker Synonymous With 'Urban Cowboy,' Dies at 86

Mickey Gilley, a country superstar whose mainstream profile rose following the success of the John Travolta film Urban Cowboy, died on Saturday (May 7) in Branson, Mo. at age 86.

"Pasadena has lost a true legend," reads a social media post attributed to the mayor of Pasadena, Texas, Jeff Wagner. "Mickey Gilley passed away today, surrounded by his loved ones. It was my great honor to know this man most of my life. Mickey was a true musical talent who charted 42 singles in the Top 40 Country Charts over a span of two decades. His talent and larger-than-life personality helped ignite a new interest in country music as he introduced the world to Pasadena through his dance hall and Urban Cowboy in 1980. We were so honored to have Mickey perform at our State of the City in Feb. 2020. Our prayers for comfort and peace are with Mickey's family, his loved ones and his fans."

Per a statement from Gilley's publicist, the singer "had just come off of the road, his favorite place, having played ten shows in April. He passed peacefully with his family and close friends by his side."

Born Mickey Leroy Gilley on March 9, 1936, the Natchez, Miss. native was a cousin of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and fellow music legend Jerry Lee Lewis.

Gilley gained regional acclaim in the 1960s with Astro Records. In 1974, a version of prior George Morgan single "Room Full of Roses" earned Gilley wider acclaim and a deal with Playboy Records. It became the first of seven No. 1 country hits for Gilley in a four-year span: a list highlighted by "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time," "She's Pulling Me Back Again," "I Overlooked an Orchid" and Bill Anderson's "City Lights."

In the early 1970s, Gilley opened "the world's biggest honky tonk," Gilley's Club, in Pasadena. Because of Urban Cowboy, Gilley and co-owner Sherwood Cryer's venue and its mechanical bull remain on the cultural map.

Urban Cowboy elevated Gilley from a throwback country music singer to a crossover star. Indeed, 17 straight Gilley singles reached the country chart's Top 10 between 1980 and 1986, beginning with Billboard Hot 100 entries "True Love Ways" and "Stand By Me."

"My heart is broken at the loss of Mickey," shared country star Jeannie Seely in a statement. "I treasure all the times we got to work together and there were never enough. He and Johnny Lee brought a new dimension to country music with the Urban Cowboy trend and brought new fans to the genre. Whether it was a boogie or a ballad, Mickey made it his own, no matter how many times it had been done before, and it would become my favorite version. He was loved and respected and he will be so greatly missed."

Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley during The 24th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Gilley later opened a theater in Branson before the southwest Missouri town became a hotbed for live country music.

Honors for Gilley include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a spot in the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday, La.

Gilley was preceded in death by his wife, Vivian. He is survived by his wife Cindy Loeb Gilley, his children Kathy, Michael, Gregory and Keith Ray, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

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