Roy Clark, Country Music Legend and 'Hee Haw' Host Dead at 85

Roy Clark, Country Music Legend and 'Hee Haw' Host Dead at 85

Roy Clark, Country Music Legend and 'Hee Haw' Host Dead at 85

Clark, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, was beloved by generations of fans for his work on the TV show Hee Haw, which he joined in 1969, acting as joyful co-host for almost a quarter century. His publicist told CNN that the performer passed away Thursday in his Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of complications from pneumonia.

Hee Haw co-hosts Roy Clark, right, and Buck Owens, pictured on November 26, 1969. His musical style proved an influence on countless country artists after him and, after building a following through his music, Hee Haw and appearances on The Tonight Show, he opened the Missouri-based Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in 1983, a pioneering business move that provided a venue to foster young musical talent for decades after. Clark took up the banjo, guitar, and mandolin (and, later, fiddle and harmonica) at age 14, and by age 15 he was not only playing in his father's square-dance band but had won several national and global banjo championships.

Clark played with the Boston Pops and other top orchestras. "It brings a smile to too many faces", he said in 2004, when the show was distributed on VHS and DVD for the first time.

The gig, and an ensuing national tour, launched him to prominence and helped him land a record deal with Capitol Records, with whom he recorded his 1963 debut, "The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark".

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A country music star now gone, but never will be forgotten. Owens, who left the show in 1986, later referred to it as a "cartoon donkey", one he endured for "that big paycheck".

Clark was born April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Virginia and grew up in Washington, D.C. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 61 years, and their four sons.

Clark said the hour-long program of country music and corny jokes capped off his career.

New York Yankees icon Mickey Mantle loved the song so much he implored Clark to play it as his funeral, a request which the musician honored when the time came in 1995. In 1982 he was awarded a Grammy for best country instrumental performance, for Alabama Jubilee. The viewers were sort of part owners of the show.

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