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Country Hall, Opry member, Hee Haw host Roy Clark dies

Thursday, November 15, 2018 – Roy Clark, the legendary super picker and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member, died today at 85 due to complications from pneumonia at home in Tulsa, Okla.

Clark also was co-host of the country music themed Hee Haw show.

"A TV camera goes right through your soul," said Clark, who starred on Hee Haw for 24 years and was a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. "If you're a bad person, people pick that up. I'm a firm believer in smiles. I used to believe that everything had to be a belly laugh. But I've come to realize that a real sincere smile is mighty powerful." For a man who didn't taste major success until he was 30, the key was not some grand plan but rather taking everything in its own time. "Sure," he said, "I had dreams of being a star when I was 18. I could've pushed it too, but it wouldn't have happened any sooner. I'm lucky. What's happened has happened in spite of me."

Born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Va., his family moved to Washington, D.C. when he was a youngster. His father played in a square dance band and took him to free concerts by the National Symphony and by various military bands. "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.'"

Beginning on banjo and mandolin, his first guitar, a Sears Silvertone, came as a Christmas present when he was 14. That same year, 1947, he made his first TV appearance. He was 15 when he earned $2 for his first paid performance, with his dad's band. He began playing bars and dives on Friday and Saturday nights until he was playing every night and skipping school, eventually dropping out at 15. "Music was my salvation, the thing I loved most and did best. Whatever was fun, I'd go do that."

He soon toured with Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones. After winning a national banjo competition in 1950, he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which led to shows with Red Foley and Ernest Tubb. Yet he'd always return to D.C. to play not only country but jazz, pop, and early rock with black groups and white groups. In 1954, he joined Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, appearing in clubs and on radio and TV and backing up Elvis Presley.

But in 1960, an invitation to open for Wanda Jackson at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas proved to be his big break. It led to his own tour, on the road for 345 straight nights at one stretch, and when he returned to Vegas in 1962, he came back as a headliner and recording star, with his debut album "The Lightning Fingers Of Roy Clark."

The next year, he had his first hit, "The Tips Of My Fingers," a country song that featured an orchestra and string section. "We didn't call it crossover then, but I guess that's what it was," he 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."

Throughout the '60s, Clark recorded several albums, toured constantly and appeared on TV variety shows from Carson to Mike Douglas to Flip Wilson. "I was the token bumpkin. It became, 'Let's get that Clark guy. He's easy to get along with.'"

Then came 'Hee Haw.' A countrified 'Laugh-In' with music, shot in Nashville, 'Hee Haw' premiered in 1969. Co-starring Clark and Buck Owens, it was an immediate hit. Though CBS canceled the show after 2 1/2 years, despite ranking in the Top 20, the series segued into syndication, where it remained until 1992. "I long ago realized it was not a figure of speech when people come up to me and say they grew up watching me since they were 'that big'."

In 1969, "Yesterday, When I Was Young" charted Top 20 Pop and 9 on Country (Billboard). Including "Yesterday," Clark has had 23 Top 40 country hits, among them eight Top 10s: "The Tips Of My Fingers" (#10, 1963), "I Never Picked Cotton" (#5) and "Thank God And Greyhound You're Gone" (#6, 1970), "The Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka" (#9, 1972), "Come Live With Me" (#1) and "Somewhere Between Love And Tomorrow" (#2, 1973), and "If I Had It To Do All Over Again" (#2, 1976I. n 1982, he won a Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) for "Alabama Jubilee."

Clark co-starred with Petula Clark at Caesar's Palace, became the first country artist to headline at the Montreux International Jazz Festival and appeared in London on 'The Tom Jones Show. The highlight of his career, he said, was a pioneering, sold-out 1976 tour of the then-Soviet Union. "Even though they didn't know the words, there were tears in their eyes when I played 'Yesterday.' Folks there said we wouldn't realize in our lifetime the good we'd accomplished, just because of our pickin' around."

Clark became the 63rd member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

From his home in Tulsa, where he moved in 1974 with Barbara, his wife of 61 years, Clark continued to tour extensively. "Soon as you hit the edge of the stage and see people smiling and know they're there to hear you, it's time to have fun. I keep a band of great young people around me, and we're not musically restrained. It's not about 'let's do it correc,t' but 'let's do it right.'" At the end of each of Clark's concerts, he would tell the audience, "We had to come, but you had a choice. Thanks for being here."

Clark is survived by Barbara, his wife, 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.

A memorial celebration will be held in the coming days in Tulsa.

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