Mickey Gilley, country star who inspired ‘Urban Cowboy,’ dead at 86

Mickey Gilley, a country music star and owner of a famed eponymous Texas honky-tonk that inspired the movie “Urban Cowboy,” died Saturday at the age of 86.

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

The “Window Up Above” singer and piano player, who was a cousin of rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, had performed as recently as last month but had been in declining health in the past week.

He opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky tonk,” in the early 1970s in Pasadena, Texas. Several years later he hit the charts with “Room Full of Roses” and enjoyed follow-up 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 over the course of his career, including 17 No. 1 records. In addition, he was known for his acting roles in shows like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Mickey Gilley was known for his song “Window Up Above.”
Mike Stone / REUTERS
Mickey Gilley shows off 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 Gilley’s nightspot inspired the 1980 John Travolta film “Urban Cowboy,” which was filmed at the bar and gave rise to a nationwide trend of pearl snap shirts, longneck beers and mechanical bulls.

The club was shut down in the late ’80s and was later destroyed in a fire. A high-end version of the honky-tonk opened in Dallas in 2003.

The Natchez, Mississippi, native grew up poor and learned boogie woogie piano by sneaking into Louisiana rhythm and blues clubs with Lewis and cousin Jimmy Swaggart, a future Pentecostal televangelist.

Mickey Gilley was known for his song "Window Up Above."
Mickey Gilley’s honkey-tonk venue inspired the movie “Urban Cowboy.”
MediaPunch / BACKGRID

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

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

With Post wires

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