Roy Clark, Country Guitarist and 'Hee-Haw' Host, Dead at 85

Rosalie Gross
November 17, 2018

Clark died of complications from pneumonia at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, according to publicist Sandy Brokaw.

The always smiling, fleet-fingered multi-instrumentalist was born in Virginia and raised in NY and Washington, D.C. After winning multiple guitar and banjo championships and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager, Clark became a regular on Jimmy Dean's D.C-area TV show.

In 1969, he got one of his own: "Hee Haw", a rural-themed variety show he co-hosted with Buck Owens on CBS. He was just one of those people you would call a natural. In addition to corny jokes and recurring sketches, the show was also an important feature for country music performers.

Sales figures largely failed to capture the significance of Clark to country music, where he was a dominant, charismatic figure for half a century, with a wide smile and a personality so warm that Bob Hope was said to have told him, "Your face is like a fireplace".

In his 1994 autobiography, "My Life in Spite of Myself", he said "Yesterday, When I Was Young" had "opened a lot of people's eyes not only to what I could do but to the whole fertile and still largely untapped field of country music, from the Glen Campbells and the Kenny Rogerses, right on through to the Garth Brookses and Vince Gills".

Throughout Hee Haw's long run, Clark maintained his fruitful solo career, earning further Top Ten hits with "I Never Picked Cotton" and "If I Had It to Do All Over Again". He had almost two-dozen Top 40 country hits, including "The Tip of My Fingers", "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "I Never Picked Cotton". The country music and comedy show's last new episode aired in 1993, though reruns continued for a few years thereafter.

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In 1982, Clark won a Grammy for best Country Instrumental Performance for "Alabama Jubilee", and opened his own theater in Branson, Missouri the following year.

Following Roy Clark's death on November 15, a star on his hit show "Hee Haw" has spoken out.

The legendary Jimmy Dean noticed the talented young Clark and hired him to play on radio and TV in the Washington, D.C. area. He also performed regularly in Las Vegas. "The viewers were sort of part owners of the show", he told the Associated Press in 2004. He got his first recording contract, with Capitol Records, in 1962.

Clark is survived by Barbara - his wife of 61 years - and his 5 children.

Roy Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia, and was surrounded by music at a young age.

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