Country virtuoso, 'Hee Haw' host Roy Clark dead at 85

Emmett Rice
November 17, 2018

His publicist told CNN that the performer passed away Thursday in his Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of complications from pneumonia.

Clark was "Hee Haw" host or co-host for its entire 24-year run, with Buck Owens his best known co-host. With Hee Haw as a platform, Clark became something of a spokesperson for the then-burgeoning genre.

Clark also enjoyed personal musical success throughout the 1960s, releasing hit singles like "Yesterday, When I Was Young".

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And of course, he also was a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The Yankees outfielder was moved to tears by "Yesterday When I Was Young" and for years made Clark promise to sing it at his memorial - a request granted after Mantle died in 1995. In 1960, he fronted Wanda Jackson's band, and two years later he landed his first label contract, with Capitol Records.

The album featured rollicking electric-guitar instrumentals, including "Texas Twist", and it was followed that same year by Clark's first hit song, "The Tip of My Fingers", written by country singer Bill Anderson. 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". He hosted from when it premiered in 1969 to when it ended in 1997, appearing in hundreds of episodes, playing music and acting in comedy sketches and bits like the "Empty Arms Hotel" and "Pickin' and Grinnin.'" Hee Haw brought a rural sensibility to television, though it was popular all over the country. Though he was no slouch as a comedian, as Hee-Haw and appearances on The Odd Couple and The Beverly Hillbillies attest, it's ultimately his awesome musical skills that will be his legacy, as he proved with regular performances at his theater in Branson throughout the nineties and 'aughts. He won seven Country Music Association Awards and in 1982 received a Grammy for his instrumental cover of the standard "Alabama Jubilee". He also performed regularly in Las Vegas. "The viewers were sort of part owners of the show", he told the Associated Press in 2004.

"This was the icing on the cake".

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