TULSA, Okla. (CelebrityAccess) – Roy Clark, a country music hall of famer, and award-winning country music multi-instrumentalist, Grand Ole Opry member and co-host of the ‘Hee Haw’ television series, died on Thursday, Nov. 15th. He was 85.
According to Clark’s publicist, he passed from complications of pneumonia at his home in Tulsa, Okla.
Born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933, in Meherrin, Virginia, Clark relocated with his family to Washington D.C. when he was still in school. His father, a musician as well, ensured that Clark was able to avail himself of the cultural opportunities afforded by the nation’s capital.
“I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played. Dad said, ‘Never turn your ear off to music until your heart hears it–because then you might hear something you like,'” Clark said in his 1994 autobiography “My Life — In Spite of Myself” which he co-wrote with Marc Elliot.
Like so many artists who make a career out of performance, he took to music at an early age, first learning the banjo and mandolin. He received his first guitar at 14, and began playing professionally with his father by 15.
Clark’s proficiency with guitar caught the attention of established artists and began to tour nationally with artists such as Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. After winning a national banjo competition in 1950, he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, introducing Clark to country music legends such as Red Foley and Ernest Tubb.
While Clark focused on country music, he also ventured into other forms, such as jazz and pop, as well as early rock n’ roll, including performing with Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, and backing up Elvis Presley.
In 1960, he accepted an invitation to open for Wanda Jackson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, where Ken Nelson, an A&R rep from Capitol Records heard him play and signed him, opening the door for Clark’s first national headlining tour. He also released his debut album The Lightning Fingers Of Roy Clark.
In 1961, he began a particularly productive phase of his career and scored his first with The Tips Of My Fingers, a country song that featured an orchestra and string section, and which cracked the top ten of the Billboard Country Chart.
“We didn’t call it crossover then but I guess that’s what it was,” Clark said “We didn’t aim for that, because if you aim for both sides you miss them both. But we just wanted to be believable.”
Through the early 1960s, he released a studio album every year, scoring hits with Roy Clark Sings Lonesome Love Ballads (1966), Do You Believe This Roy Clark (1968), and Yesterday, When I Was Young (1969).
He also became a fixture on television, appearing on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘American Bandstand’ and a slew of variety shows where he often portrayed a country bumpkin. The casting became more permanent when he landed a spot on ‘Hee Haw’ when it premiered in 1969, with Clark serving as a comic foil to his co-star Buck Owens. The show was an immediate hit, and even after CBS cancelled it after two-and-a-half years, the show moved into syndication where it thrived until 1992.
Through the 1970 and 1980s, Clark continued to record, releasing 23 albums over the course of the decade, including Roy Clark’s Family Album (1973) which hit number 2 on the Billboard Country Chart and Roy Clark / The Entertainer, which peaked at #4 in 1974.
He also continued to tour, including pioneering sold-out headlining runs in the Soviet Union in 1976 and again in 1988.
Clark accumulated a trove of accolades over the course of his long career, including a Grammy, multiple CMA and ACM Awards, and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Clark was also the first country artist to be inducted into the Entertainer Hall of Fame.
Clark lived in Tulsa, with Barbara, his wife of 61 years.
Following his passing, Clark’s colleagues in the country music community expressed their grief.
“I lost a dear friend today and my heart hurts. Rest in peace, Roy.” – Bobby Bare
“I have fond memories of my friend Roy. We shared laughter when I did guest spots on Hee Haw. I will miss him. God Bless his family and may he rest in peace.” – Jerry Lee Lewis
“Roy Clark was one of the greats in the music industry, was also a great friend and we had a lot in common. We both love music and both loved aviation. I will miss my friend!” – Mickey Gilley
“When I think back on my career and the ones that helped shape me, Roy was there. As a young boy, I idolized him… as a fellow artist, I adored him. God Bless you and keep you by His side, Roy, til we meet again – I love you, Forever and Ever, Amen.” – Randy Travis
Clark is survived by Barbara, his sons Roy Clark II and wife Karen, Dr. Michael Meyer and wife Robin, Terry Lee Meyer, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart, and his grandchildren: Brittany Meyer, Michael Meyer, Caleb Clark, Josiah Clark and his sister, Susan Coryell.
Roy is preceded in death by his beloved grandson Elijah Clark who passed at the age of fourteen on September 24, 2018.
A memorial celebration will be held in the coming days in Tulsa, Okla., details forthcoming.