Country music legend Mickey Gilley, who died on May 9 at the age of 86, was honored in a collection of remembrances led by his cousin and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I am so very saddened by the death of my cousin Mickey Gilley,” said Lewis, 86. “He and Jimmy Swaggert are like brothers to me. We are asking for prayers for his wife, Cindy, and his entire family. I’m sad and praying. I loved him very much.”
Mickey Gilley, known for hits like “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” and “Room Full of Roses,” was born on March 9, 1936. The cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis, on his mother’s side, the two grew up near one another in Mississippi. Gilley’s career began in the 1950s playing bars and clubs and later gaining a following in Pasadena, Texas with his minor hit “Now I Can Live Again.”
Swaggart, along with Irving Azoff, the musical producer for the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, which featured Gilley’s remake of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me,” Country Music Hall of Famers and longtime musicians of Gilley’s, the CEO of the Academy of Country Music and more offered their memories and remembrances of the star in a collection of their individual statements:
“With the passing of Mickey, the music world has lost a giant. I don’t think there is any argument about that. Mickey, Jerry Lee and myself were raised together. We learned to play piano together. I remember the day that he came to me and said, ‘Jimmy, I want to learn to play the piano.’ We were only about 10 years old. He had already taught himself to play guitar and had done very well.” I remember showing him several chords on the piano, and he took it from there. I might quickly say that he took it very well – as everyone has seen for themselves for over a half-century. But alongside all of his achievements in music, the thing that thrilled me the most was that some time ago he called me and said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve made things right with the Lord.’ I saw an immediate change in his life in these last few days and that is the thing that’s far more important to me. The music world will miss him. And the work of God will miss him as well. I will miss him. Our prayers are with his family and friends during this time.” — Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, cousin of Mickey Gilley, Pentecostal televangelist
“Working with Mickey Gilley was undoubtedly one of the top highlights of bringing the Urban Cowboy story to both record and film audiences. Mickey was the real deal and a key component of the ‘Urban Cowboy’ story. He will be missed greatly.” — Irving Azoff, music executive and producer of Urban Cowboy
Mickey Gilley was more than just a legend to me. I loved him like a brother. We enjoyed a closeness that came from working towards goals that many suggested were unachievable. He was a kind, thoughtful fun-loving friend and partner through the process of making music and his generosity of spirit pulled the best from everyone with whom he worked. I’m overcome with a sadness that only the memory of his mischievous smile, beautiful soul, and our special time together can erase.” — Jim Ed Norman, music executive, longtime producer of Gilley
“Been a friend of Gilley’s for 50 years. He was one of the good ones – I loved playing Gilley’s in Texas, we played it many, many times. The fact is, that’s where I first met Mickey and Johnny Lee and ol’ Sherwood Cryer. I’m sure going to miss my old friend.” —Bobby Bare, Country Music Hall of Fame member
“The Academy is saddened to lose one of our greats today. He is a seven-time ACM Awards winner including our Entertainer of the Year in 1976 and prestigious Triple Crown award in 2005, which few artists have achieved. His impact on Country Music, film, and television, can never be understated and will never be forgotten. We’ll always keep this urban cowboy in our hearts, and we send our deepest sympathies to his family and fans around the world.” — Damon Whiteside, CEO, Academy of Country Music
“Gilley’s love of music and people was beautiful. Gifted far beyond talent, he was genuine, loyal, fearless and charming . He warmly welcomed artists and fans from across the globe and all walks of life into his world. A country music ambassador extraordinaire! May his memory be eternal.”— Lane Brody
“Mickey was the first No. one record I played on and I had 10 consecutive overall with him. He was a gift to not only country music, but the world of music. One cannot think of the motion picture ‘Urban Cowboy’ without thinking of Mickey Gilley.” — Eddie Bayers, Country Music Hall of Fame drummer who played on many of Gilley’s records
“My heart is broken at the loss of Mickey. 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.”–Jeannie Seely
“I grew up on Mickey Gilley music! What a great loss. He was a true stylist! Seeing him live in concert as a kid, and the way he owned the stage…helped me realize that being an entertainer was often as important as the music itself. My deepest sympathies go out to his family. He will forever be a legend and rightfully so!“–Heidi Newfield
“When I learned of the passing of Gilley my heart just sank! What a trailblazer he was his entire career!! Being a fellow Texan of course, his music blared on my radio and record player and 8 track player!! And then, Urban Cowboy, Gilley’s in Pasadena, he is a member of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame – I am just getting started with all of his accolades. He used to sit and listen to me sing at the piano bar where I played for several years at the Sheraton Music City. He was an encourager to me and he was my friend. RIP Gilley.”–Linda Davis
Memorial Service Details will be revealed soon and will likely include public memorials in Branson, Missouri, and Nashville with a private ceremony in Pasadena, Texas, and Ferriday, Louisiana.
Photo: Matthew Swaggart