Country music star Mickey Gilley, whose namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film. The urban cowboy and nationwide western-themed nightclub wave is dead. He was 86 years old.
Gilley died Saturday in Branson, Missouri, where he helped run the Mickey Gilley Shanghai Theater. He had performed most recently, last month, but was in failing health last week.
“He passed away peacefully with his family and close friends by his side,” Mickey Gilley Associates said in a statement.
Gilley – a cousin of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis – opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky-tonk,” in Pasadena, Texas, in the early 1970s. By mid-decade he was already a successful club owner and had achieved his first commercial success with the song “Room Full of Roses.” He began releasing regular country hits, including “Window Up Above,” “She’s Pulling Me Back Again” and the honky-tonk anthem “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.”
In all, he had 39 top country hits and 17 No. 1 songs. He’s won six Academy of Country Music awards and has also occasionally worked as an actor, appearing on Murder She Wrote, Fallen Boy, Fantasy Island and Dukes of Hazzard.
“If I had one wish in life, I wish I had more time,” Gilley told the Associated Press in March 2001 when he celebrated his 65th birthday. Not that he would do otherwise, the singer said.
“I do exactly what I want to do. I play golf, fly a plane and perform at my theater in Branson, Missouri,” he said. “I like doing my show for people.”
Meanwhile, the sights of the giant nightclub, including its famous mechanical bull, led to the 1980 film. Urban Cowboys by John Travolta and Debra Winger, starring Debra Winger, which many consider a hillbilly version of Travolta’s 1977 disco hit. Saturday Night Fever. The film, inspired by the Gilly Club, was based on an Esquire article by Aaron Latham about the relationship between two club regulars.
“Every night before I go to bed I thank John Travolta for supporting my career,” Gilley told the AP in 2002. – I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my participation in City Cowboy. That movie had a huge impact on my career and still does to this day.”
The soundtrack includes such hits as Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love,” “Look What You’ve Done for Me” Boz Scaggs and “Stand by Me” Gilly. The movie turned the Pasadena Club into a nighttime tourist attraction and popularized pearl button shirts, long-necked beer, steel guitar and mechanical bulls across the country.
But the club closed in 1989 after Gilly and his business partner Sherwood Cryer quarreled over how to run it. It was soon destroyed by fire.
An upscale version of the old Gilley’s nightclub opened in Dallas in 2003. In recent years, Gilley’s moved to Branson.
He was married three times, most recently to Cindy Loeb Gilley’s. He had four children, three by his first wife, Geraldine Garrett, and one by his second, Vivian McDonald.
A native of Natchez, Mississippi, Gilley grew up poor, studying boogie-woogie piano in Ferriday, Louisiana, along with Lewis and cousin Jimmy Swaggart, a future evangelist. Like Lewis, he used to sneak into Louisiana club windows to listen to rhythm and blues. He moved to Houston to work in construction, but played nights at local clubs, recording and touring for years before gaining popularity in the ’70s.
In recent years, Gilly has had health problems. In August 2008, he underwent brain surgery after specialists diagnosed hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by increased fluid in the skull. Gilly suffered from short-term memory loss and believed the surgery stopped the onset of dementia.
In 2009, he had another surgery after he fell down a flight of stairs, forcing him to cancel scheduled appearances in Branson. In 2018, he suffered a broken ankle and right shoulder in a car accident.