Mickey Gilley, country music star who inspired ‘Urban Cowboy’, has died aged 86

Mickey Gilley, country music star and owner of a famous Texas honky-tonk of the same name who inspired the film Urban Cowboy, died Saturday at the age of 86.

Gilley “passed away peacefully with family and close friends by his side” in Branson, Missouri, according to a statement from Mickey Gilley Associates.

The “Window Up Above” singer and pianist, who was a cousin of rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, only performed last month but has been struggling with health for the past week.

In the early 1970s, he opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky tonk,” in Pasadena, Texas. A few years later he hit the charts with “Room Full of Roses” and enjoyed subsequent success with a string of hits like “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time” and “She’s Pulling Me Back Again”.

Gilley had 39 top 10 country hits throughout his career, including 17 No. 1 records. He was also known for his acting roles on shows like Murder, She Wrote and The Dukes of Hazzard.

The late singer Mickey Gilley arrives at the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Arlington, Texas.
Mickey Gilley was known for his song “Window Up Above”.
Mike Stone/REUTERS
Mickey Gilley shows his diamond rings to the media during the 34th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
Mickey Gilley shows off his diamond rings during the 34th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
Kevork Djansezian/AP

An Esquire article about nightspot Gilley’s inspired the 1980 John Travolta film Urban Cowboy, which was filmed in the bar and led to a nationwide trend of beaded snap shirts, longneck beers and mechanical cops.

The club closed in the late 80s and was later destroyed in a fire. A high-end take on the honky-tonk opened in Dallas in 2003.

A native of Natchez, Mississippi, he grew up poor and learned to play boogie-woogie piano by sneaking into Louisiana’s rhythm and blues clubs with Lewis and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart, a future Pentecostal televangelist.

Mickey Gilley was known for his song "window above."
Mickey Gilley’s honkey tonk location inspired the film Urban Cowboy.

“If I had one wish in life, I would wish for more time,” Gilley told The Associated Press in March 2001, celebrating his 65th birthday. Not that he would do anything differently, the singer said.

“I do exactly what I want. I play golf, fly my plane and perform at my theater in Branson, Missouri,” he said. “I love doing my show for the people.”

With postal wires

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