Country legend Roy Clark - the Grammy victor, Grand Ole Opry member, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, and seven-time Country Music Association Awards recipient known for his guitar-picking virtuosity and longtime stint on the beloved country variety show Hee Haw - has died at age 85.
According to a statement from his publicist, Clark died due to complications from pneumonia. It was in 1969, however, when Clark landed the role that proved the cornerstone of his career - the host of the country-tinged TV variety series Hee Haw, alongside Buck Owens, which enjoyed an initial run until 1971 and set a TV syndication record by airing through 1997.
Created as a countrified version of the comedy show "Laugh-In", "Hee Haw" originally aired on CBS but was canceled after two years in what became known as the "rural purge", when down-home shows such as "Green Acres" were canned in favor of programs that purportedly appealed to a younger, more sophisticated demographic. "It brings a smile to too many faces", Clark said in 2004, when the show was distributed on VHS and DVD for the first time. "My first CMA memory is sitting on my living room floor watching Roy Clark tear it up", Urban tweeted. Owens, who left the show in 1986, later referred to it as a "cartoon donkey", one he endured for "that big paycheck".
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"Other Clark hits were 1963's "The Tips of My Fingers", 1973's" Come Live With Me", and 1974's "Honeymoon Feeling". He often had musical guests on the show including Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks and Loretta Lynn. He was 14 when he got his first guitar - a Christmas present, according to the AP - and within a year was playing in a square-dance band with his father, who also played the guitar, fiddle and banjo. His rendition of "Alabama Jubilee" was awarded a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 1982.
"I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played", Clark once said. In 1976 he headlined a tour of the Soviet Union, breaking boundaries that were usually closed to Americans. The viewers were sort of part owners of the show.