15 April 1933
Meherrin, Prince Edward County, Virginia, United States
15 November 2018 (aged 85)
Roy Linwood Clark (April 15, 1933 – November 15, 2018) was an American singer and musician. He is best known for hosting Hee Haw, a nationally televised country variety show, from 1969 to 1997. Roy Clark has been an important and influential figure in country music, both as a performer and helping to popularize the genre.
During the 1970s, Clark frequently guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and enjoyed a 30-million viewership for Hee Haw. Clark is highly regarded and renowned as a guitarist and banjo player, and is also skilled on classical guitar and several other instruments. Although he has had hit songs as a pop vocalist (e.g., "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "Thank God and Greyhound"), his instrumental skill has had an enormous effect on generations of bluegrass and country musicians. He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1987 and, in 2009, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Clark was born in Meherrin, Virginia. Roy also grew up in Staten Island, New York and lived as a teenager in southeast Washington, D.C., where his father worked at the Washington Navy Yard. At 14, Clark began playing banjo, guitar, and mandolin, and by age 15 he had already won two National Banjo Championships and world banjo/guitar flatpick championships. He was simultaneously pursuing a sporting career, first as a baseball player and then as a boxer, before dedicating himself solely to music. At 17, he had his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
At the age of 23, Clark obtained his pilot's license and then bought a 1953 Piper Tri-Pacer (N1132C), which he flew for many years. This plane was raffled off on December 17, 2012, to benefit the charity Wings of Hope. He has owned other planes, including a Mitsubishi MU-2, Stearman PT-17 and Mitsubishi MU-300 Diamond 1A bizjet.
By 1955, he was a regular on Jimmy Dean's Washington, D.C., television program. Dean, who valued punctuality among musicians in his band, the Texas Wildcats, fired Clark for habitual tardiness, telling him, "You're the most talented person I've ever fired." Clark married Barbara Joyce Rupard on August 31, 1957. In 1960, Clark went out to Las Vegas, where he worked as a guitarist in a band led by former West Coast Western Swing bandleader-comedian Hank Penny. During the very early 1960s, he was also prominent in the backing band for Wanda Jackson—known as the Party Timers—during the latter part of her rockabilly period.
When Dean was tapped to host The Tonight Show in the early 1960s, he asked Clark to appear, introducing him to a national audience for the first time. Subsequently, Clark appeared on The Beverly Hillbillies as a recurring character (actually two: he played businessman Roy Halsey and Roy's mother, Myrtle). Once, in an episode of the Sunday evening Jackie Gleason Show dedicated to country music, Clark played a blistering rendition of "Down Home". Later, he appeared in an episode of The Odd Couple, where he played "Malagueña".
In 1963, Clark signed to Capitol Records and had three top ten hits. He switched to Dot Records and again scored hits. He later recorded for ABC Records, which had acquired Dot, and MCA Records, which absorbed the ABC label.
In the mid '60s, he was a co-host (along with Molly Bee and Rusty Draper) of a weekday daytime country variety series for NBC entitled "Swingin' Country", which was cancelled after two seasons. In 1969, Clark and Buck Owens were the hosts of Hee Haw. The show was dropped by CBS Television in 1971 but continued to run in syndication for 21 more years. During its tenure, Clark was a member of the Million Dollar Band and participated in a host of comedy sketches. In 1983, Clark opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Missouri, becoming the first country music star to have his own venue there, thus beginning a trend which led to Branson becoming a center of live music performance, as it is today. Many of the celebrities who play in Branson first performed at the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre.
Clark frequently played in Branson during the 1980s and 1990s. He has since sold the venue (now owned by the Hughes Brothers and renamed the Hughes American Family Theatre) and gone back to a fairly light touring schedule, which usually includes a performance with Ramona Jones and the Jones Family Band at their annual tribute to Clark's old Hee Haw co-star Grandpa Jones in Mountain View, Arkansas.
In addition to his musical skill, Clark has often displayed his talents as a comedian and actor. During his years on Hee Haw, Clark entertained with numerous comedy sketches, including a recurring feature where he played the reservation desk clerk of the "Empty Arms Hotel". Clark released several albums of his comedic performances, to varying critical acclaim and commercial success.
Clark endorsed Mosrite, Gretsch, and many other brands of guitars during his career. He also endorsed Heritage Guitars, which makes a Roy Clark model. On August 22, 1987, Clark was made a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He played an annual benefit concert at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, the proceeds of which go to fund scholarships for aspiring musicians.
Clark was married to his wife Barbara whom he married in 1957 and they have 4 children.
For many years Clark has made his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Roy Clark Elementary School in Tulsa's Union School District was named in his honor in 1978. Fellow Oklahoma resident Mickey Mantle arranged for Clark to sing "Yesterday When I Was Young" at his funeral (which Clark did in 1995).
Clark died at his home in Tulsa due to complications of pneumonia, on November 15, 2018, aged 85.
Clark published an autobiography, My Life in Spite of Myself, in 1994.
On May 17, 2009, Clark was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Barbara Mandrell and Charlie McCoy. On September 23, 2010, Clark sang "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch at Dodger Stadium in a game featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the San Diego Padres. On April 12, 2011, Clark was honored by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He was honored by the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame as Oklahoma's Music Ambassador for Children and presented with a commendation from Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. In 2007, he was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame.
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