In Branson, Missouri, where he helped run the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre, Gilley passed away on Saturday at the age of 91. He had been performing as recently as last month, but his health had deteriorated significantly over the previous week.
“He died away quietly with his family and close friends by his side,” according to a statement from Mickey Gilley Associates. “He passed away peacefully with his family and close friends by his side.”
Early in the 1970s, Gilley, a cousin of rock and roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, founded Gilley’s, which he dubbed “the world’s largest honky tonk” in the Texas town of Pasadena. By the middle of the decade, he had established himself as a successful club owner and had had his first commercial breakthrough with the song “Room Full of Roses.” With the release of “Window Up Above” and “She’s Pulling Me Back Again,” he established himself as a regular producer of country hits, including the honky-tonk hymn “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
In total, he had 39 Top 10 country hits and 17 No. 1 singles to his credit. Besides being a country music artist, he has also been on television shows such as “Murder She Wrote,” “The Fall Guy,” “Fantasy Island,” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He has garnered six Academy of Country Music Awards and has also worked as an actor on a few occasions.
“If I had one wish in life, it would be to have more time,” Gilley told The Associated Press on the occasion of his 65th birthday, which occurred in March 2001. The singer stated that he would not have done anything differently.
The work I’m doing is exactly what I want to be doing. He has three hobbies: golfing, flying his planes, and performing at his own theater in Branson, Missouri,” he added. “It gives me great pleasure to perform for the audience.”
Between then and now, the huge nightclub’s attractions, including its fabled mechanical bull, spawned the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy,” which starred John Travolta and Debra Winger and is widely considered as a country-fied version of Travolta’s 1977 disco hit “Saturday Night Fever.” The film, which was inspired by Gilley’s club, was based on an essay written by Aaron Latham for Esquire magazine on the friendship between two club regulars.
The Associated Press reported in 2002 that Gilley said, “Every night before bed, I thank John Travolta for keeping my career alive.” The gratitude I feel for my engagement in ‘Urban Cowboy’ is difficult to express. That picture had a significant impact on my career, and it continues to do so.”
Popular songs from the film, including Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” Boz Scaggs’ “Look What You’ve Done for Me,” and Gilley’s “Stand by Me,” were featured on the soundtrack. As a result of the film, the Pasadena club became a favorite overnight visitor destination, and pearl snap shirts, longneck beers, the steel guitar, and mechanical bulls were popular across the country.
However, the club was forced to close in 1989 after a disagreement between Gilley and his business partner Sherwood Cryer over how to administer the establishment. Soon later, it was completely destroyed by fire.
In 2003, a more premium counterpart of the old Gilley’s nightclub opened its doors in downtown Dallas. Gilley has recently relocated to Branson, Missouri.
During his life, he was married three times, the most recent being to Cindy Loeb Gilley. He had four children with his first wife, Geraldine Garrett, and one with his second wife, Vivian McDonald. He had three children with Geraldine Garrett and one with Vivian McDonald.
As a child, Gilley grew up destitute in Natchez, Mississippi. He spent his childhood in Ferriday, Louisiana, learning boogie-woogie piano with Lewis and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart, who would go on to become an evangelist. He, like Lewis, would sneak into the windows of Louisiana nightclubs to listen to the rhythm and blues music being played inside. Originally from New York, he came to Houston in order to work in construction, but he also played in the local club scene at night, and he recorded and toured for years before breaking through in the 1970s.
Gilley had been suffering from health issues in previous years. Following the diagnosis of hydrocephalus, a disorder marked by an accumulation in fluid in the brain in August 2008, he underwent brain surgery in September 2008. Gilley had been suffering from short-term memory loss, and she believes that the operation has prevented the onset of dementia in her case.
In 2009, he required more surgery when he fell off a stairwell, forcing him to reschedule booked concerts in Branson, Missouri. The result of a car accident caused him to fracture his ankle and fracture his right shoulder in 2018.