The Urban Cowboy Mickey Gilley Has Died
There are few artists more synonymous with a specific era in country music than Mickey Gilley was with the Urban Cowboy movement—the early 80s influence that brought country music out of the country and into industrialized urban areas where many rural residents flocked for blue collar jobs. The 1980 movie Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta popularized the era, but Mickey Gilly soundtracked it, and also offered the iconic setting for it with his legendary honky-tonk in Pasadena, Texas.
Mickey Gilley’s impact was felt so much more than in a single era though, spending over 60 years in the business, minting 16 #1 songs over his career, and stayed active well into his 80s. It’s all come to an end now though, with word coming down Mickey Gilley has died at the age of 86, and right after coming off the road where he played 10 shows in April, still going at it. He passed away surrounded by friends and family.
Mickey Gilly grew up in the shadow of his famous cousin Jerry Lee Lewis, and was also related to performer and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Born in Natchez, Mississippi on March 9, 1936, Gilley started his career first working in boogie-woogie and Gospel music. He released a few singles, but nothing really stuck. Then he he released the song “Room Full of Roses” just for fun and it shot to #1 in 1974. His next three singles would also hit #1, and his career was off to the races.
Mickey Gilley was not exactly favored by the purists of country music. By integrating more pop sounds into country, he helped open the door for crossover stars such as Kenny Rogers, during a time when artists outside of the genre such as Olivia Newton-John and John Denver were also finding favor in the country format.
When Urban Cowboy came out in 1980, Mickey Gilley found a whole new level of appreciation, with eight of the next nine singles hitting #1, making him one of the most popular artists in country. And though some of the country old-timers criticized Gilley, none of his big hits ever crossed over into pop, while today’s twang-starved audiences listen to some of Mickey Gilley’s biggest hits such as “True Love Ways”, “A Headache Tomorrow (Or a Heartache Tonight),” “You Don’t Know Me,” and “Lonely Nights,” and hear classic country gold.
But just as important as his contributions as a performer were Mickey Gilley’s contributions to country music as a venue owner. The layout of the mega honky-tonk, and the legacy of the mechanical bull are all in part the responsibility of Mickey Gilley. First opening Gilley’s Club in 1970 that soon became known as the “world’s biggest honky-tonk,” the concept became iconic through the Urban Cowboy film, and went on to be mimicked by many owners and promoters across the United States.
The club portion of Gilley’s burned down in 1990, and it illustrated the end of an era, as the Urban Cowboy period of country music came to a close in the throes of the “Class of ’89” with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and others taking country in a different direction. The spirit of Gilley’s still lives on though, with a sister location opened in Dallas, and today’s “world biggest honky-tonk” Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth still goring strong.
Mickey Gilley was also known for his work movies, earned numerous accolades including six Academy of Country Music Awards, was one of only a handful of artists to receive the Academy of Country Music’s Triple Crown Award, and also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Gilley also remained long-time friends with fellow performer Johnny Lee, whose legacy was also cemented through the Urban Cowboy film.
Mickey Gilley was preceded in death by his wife, Vivian, and is survived by his wife Cindy Loeb Gilley, his children Kathy, Michael, Gregory and Keith Ray, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, and his cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart.
May 7, 2022 @ 7:32 pm
R.I.P. to a legend and his impact on helping to make Branson what it became can also not be underestimated, he was a big driving force in that. I always liked Mickeys music and also feel that artists who are piano players tend to have music that sounds a little more contemporary. I think the Urban Cowboy era gets a bad wrap sometimes for changing the sounds, but those artists who started it, we’re not really that way. If you listen to Johnny Lee’s hits, they are big time country in any era, I just think it got so big it bright people in that started shifting the sounds some. That movie soundtrack to Urban Cowboy is a classic. Too bad the CMA awards two years ago didn’t let Mickey and Johnny play when they were honoring the Urban Cowboy era, of course they screwed that up and now he is gone. Prayers for his family.
May 7, 2022 @ 7:35 pm
Every music genre goes through cycles. I am grateful to have been listening when the “Urban Cowboy” craze took off. His music is classic Country. He was one of my favorites. I hope next Saturday doesn’t bring #3 after hearing the news of Naomi & Mickey.
May 8, 2022 @ 12:45 pm
loved Mickey Gilley. he was one of my favorites. I use to love”All the girls get prettier at closing time”. There will never be another like him. RIP. you will be Greatly missed! 🙏🙏
May 7, 2022 @ 9:48 pm
Rest in peace.
May 7, 2022 @ 10:10 pm
I don’t think Gilley opened the door for Glen Campbell. It’s more likely the other way around. Campbell’s iconic hits came in the late 1960’s, well before Gilley’s breaktrhough in 1974.
May 7, 2022 @ 11:10 pm
Yeah, that was poorly worded. What I should have said is that with artists like Glen Campbell, Mickey Gilley helped open the door to later crossover stars.
May 7, 2022 @ 10:52 pm
R.I.P. Mickey Gilley another legend gone two in one week. 😔😥😢😭
May 11, 2022 @ 12:48 pm
R.I.P Mickey Gilley YOU Were One Of My Favorite people
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
May 8, 2022 @ 12:16 am
Thank you for the music.
May 8, 2022 @ 5:13 am
Trigger, I think you just made the case for Mickey’s induction to the HOF!
May 8, 2022 @ 7:34 am
Just because of the backlog, I would put numerous people ahead of Mickey Gilley in the Veteran’s category. But I do think looking bigger picture, he should be in the Hall of Fame. 17 #1 and a 60-year career, and being synonymous with a specific era in country are Hall of Fame credentials.
May 8, 2022 @ 5:24 am
I actually lived next door to him before he had his big new house built in Pasadena.
His youngest son kinda irritated me by starting a a hard rock band, which, at the time, I didn’t think was appropriate, since Country music paid for his corvette. His wife was a sweet lady. I didn’t have much interaction with Mickey since he was gone most of the time and when he was home he didn’t come outside much. His in laws lived on the other side of his house and his father-in-law was a decent sort.
My mother-in-law knew him a lot better than I did (we bought the house from in laws) and got him to autograph a picture for my Mother’s birthday… which isn’t all that unusual, except she just went to his house and asked him to ::)…. he had the flu, but was nice enough to accommodate the request.
May 8, 2022 @ 5:43 am
RIP Prayers go out to your family. Your music was the best thank you for all of them you sang.
May 8, 2022 @ 5:47 am
Sad news. He is a significant part in the history of country music. Condolences to his family.
May 8, 2022 @ 6:58 am
Be careful in emphasizing the “Urban Cowboy” era Mickey Gilley at the expense of his earlier material. His Greatest Hits Vol 1 and 2 on Playboy Records are chock full of classic, pure honky tonk. RIP Mickey, and thank you for the music.
May 8, 2022 @ 7:40 am
I see the terminology “legend” tossed around regarding Mickey Gilley. And I wholeheartedly agree with it. He was a legend.
Between Billboard, Record World, Cash Box, and Radio & Records he totaled 19 No. 1 hit singles, he was the biggest force in the Urban Cowboy movement and a legend in Texas Music , and he helped turn Branson, Missouri into one of the mega country music tourism locations in the world.
So my question is, why did this 86 year old legend pass away without a bronze plaque enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame?
This is just another glaring example of how the CMA needs to expand the categories or add a few more inductions per year. There is no excuse for Mickey Gilley leaving this world without the honor being given to him while he could still smell the roses.
We are not talking about a borderline candidate here. Gilley was a consistent hit maker in country music for two decades.
Shame on the CMA.
May 8, 2022 @ 11:03 am
We’re entering an era when we’re going to see more and more artists that are likely eventually going to be put into the Hall of Fame die before they get to witness it personally, and the next one (God forbid) might be Mickey Gilley’s cousin Jerry Lee Lewis. I don’t understand this, have advocated for the Hall of Fame to clear this backlog, and yet they seem completely unresponsive to this issue, and others facing the Hall of Fame, including the lack of broadcasts of the induction ceremony. I appreciate they want to keep things exclusive. But you can still do that while making sure some of these artists get to appreciate the distinction while they’re still living.
May 8, 2022 @ 4:24 pm
It’s because they are too busy looking for the next hype thing that they can do to bring attention to the HOF and not actually caring about some of the people that made the place possible to begin with. All the while being too wrapped up in making their sugar-free-low-sodium-banana-and-brocolli-caffeine-free-soy-lattes.
May 9, 2022 @ 7:27 am
Unfortunately, it’s the Hall of Fame, not always the Hall of Quality, and that emphasis means that hugely deserving artists like Gary Stewart, Johnny Paycheck and Wynn Stewart aren’t in, while a Garth Brooks plaque hangs in Hall today.
May 9, 2022 @ 9:49 am
I’m not a Garth Brooks fan (used to be), but to discount Garth’s success as a country music performer and criticize his inclusion in the CMHoF seems a bit much. He had greater success in sales, on charts, etc. than all 3 of those men you mentioned combined. Gary Stewart’s lack of chart success and lack of popularity will prove a huge roadblock to him getting in. It might be after you and I are both gone before he gets in. As pure as we all want the CMHoF to be, there is still a measure of success required to notable enough for Hall induction. I’ve been lobbying for years to get Johnny Horton and Stonewall Jackson inducted, but to no avail. Webb Pierce and Faron Young, two huge stars in the 50s and 60s weren’t inducted until after they died. Both were inducted in the 2000s. The problem is those damn categories. They have to have a modern nominee and behind-the-scenes person inducted each year. I totally disagree with that.
May 12, 2022 @ 8:53 am
Does anyone know if Barbara Mandrell is in the Hall? Was also thinking of the fairly recently deceased Mac Davis, although he was more middle of the road. For that matter so was Barbara once her career matured. She specialized in remakes of pop and soul hits. I believe “Woman to Woman” was a Gladys Knight song. Anyone know for sure.
May 8, 2022 @ 8:33 am
I know Urban Cowboy gets a bad rap but for someone who grew up in New England and never heard Country much, Urban Cowboy as well as going to college in Ohio opened my eyes to Country music. It started my appreciation 42 years ago which continues to this day!
Mickey has written a lot of great songs, but to me his best was “Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time”. A classic!
May 8, 2022 @ 9:33 am
When it comes to discussing Gilley, people always bring up the nightclub and Urban Cowboy. Perhaps that may be how he will be remembered. But that sells him short. The man literally defined the music of Honky-Tonk. There are precious few genuinely GREAT piano playing Honky-Tonkers in history. Game-changers like Moon Mullican, Jerry Lee, and Mickey Gilley. Sure there was Charlie Rich, but he was less Honky-Tonk and more jazz. Another thing about Gilley, was that he possessed a ridiculously great Country voice. Nothing was put-on or fake about it. He was a real deal SOUTHERN boy, with a truckload of authenticity. No one could sing a great ballad like Gilley, and there are many in his catalog. He could do a cover of a classic like Stand By Me, or Window Up Above and totally make it his own. As for Urban Cowboy, I get that many Country fans at the time were incensed that so many city slicks were jumping on the bandwagon, and essentially making a mockery of the Country music lifestyle. And there is some truth to that. But, at the same time, the film boosted every performers career, and had quite a lot to do with filling seats at live shows, selling records, and resuscitating what had once been a marginalized genre of music. Remember, this was the end of the disco era, and a lot of people were clamoring for something that felt more organic or authentic. And many folks became life-long Country music supporters as a result. In my estimation, Gilley wasn’t a sellout, but a shrewd businessman, who was there at the right time and the right place to capitalize on a monstrous, and profitable phenomenon. Gilleys nightclub became THE place to play live. And you could argue that it brought a boost to honky-tonks and Country bars everywhere.
Mickey Gilley is and was a real-deal stone cold Country legend. And they arent making more like him.
(Still) The Ghost Of OlaR
May 8, 2022 @ 10:29 am
An album with pre-urban cowboy Mickey Gilley tracks was released in early April:
Mickey Gilley – The Singles Collection A’s & B’s 1960-1969 – 14 Tracks – 04/01
David: The Duke of Everything
May 8, 2022 @ 10:43 am
I strongly agree with some other posters. The fact that he died before getting into the country hall of Fame is a shame. I’m not personally a big fan of his songs but his importance in country music history is well established. The silly arguments that his sound wasn’t really country was just that, silly. Artist can add, artist can subtract, it’s what makes music great. It’s great that he was still able to do what he loved even towards the end. May he rest in peace.
May 9, 2022 @ 9:50 am
Requiescat in pace, Mickey Gilley. 86 years is a good run.
May 9, 2022 @ 8:28 pm
Mickey..a great 70s entertainer..good singer..great career.in country music…rip..