A country music icon has passed away. Mickey Gilley, the singer-songwriter whose career spanned more than 50 years, died surrounded by his family, according to Pasadena Mayor Jeff Wagner. He was 86 years old.
Born in 1936 in Natchez, Mississippi, to a famous family that included iconic cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart, Gilley cut his teeth in small clubs, eventually recording 39 Top 10 hits and 17 #1 singles.
In 1970 he opened his now famous eponymous Gilley honky-tonk in Pasadena, which would eventually be known as the “world’s greatest honky-tonk”.
The club – and its legendary mechanical bull – would eventually create a memorable setting in John Travolta’s 1980 hit, Urban cowboy. An over-the-top film premiere at the club in 1980 saw Lynn Wyatt, Andy Warhol and Diane von Furstenberg.
Gilley not only starred in the blockbuster, but his cover of “Stand by Me” became a pop and adult contemporary hit that year, marking a resurgence for the singer. (He later recounted that magical time with TV legend Dave Ward.)
With Urban cowboy putting him back in the spotlight, Gilley moved into television in the 1980s, appearing in popular series such as The Murder She Wrote, The fell guy, fantasy islandand DHazzard Ukes.
His club Gilley no longer operates in Pasadena (a store is located nearby), as it closed in 1989 due to a dispute between Gilley and his former partner Sherwood Cryer. In 1990, the honky tonk burned down; the fire was ruled an arson by local investigators.
Gilley sold the naming rights to Dallas-based developer Matthews Southwest, and Gilley’s Dallas opened in 2003. It is currently owned by Don Nelson. There are also locations in Las Vegas and Oklahoma.
A longtime resident of Pasadena, Gilley has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, six Academy of Country Music Awards and a place in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. Fittingly, a street in Pasadena is named after the star: Mickey Gilley Boulevard.
“Pasadena has lost a true legend,” Wagner said in a social media post, adding that “his talent and larger-than-life personality helped spark new interest in country music as he introduced Pasadena to the world through his dance hall and Urban cowboy in 1980. We were so honored to have Mickey perform at our city state in February 2020. Our prayers for comfort and peace are with Mickey’s family, loved ones and fans.