This has been a rough week for fans of different genres. Comic book buffs lost Marvel Comics’ revolutionary writer/editor Stan Lee, while fans of country music (among many other people) are still taking in the death of musician and Hee Haw star Roy Clark, who passed away at age 85 on Thursday, Nov. 15 from complications resulting from pneumonia.
One of them is actress/songwriter Linda Thompson, who exclusively told Closer Weekly, “Roy Clark was a phenomenal musician who deftly played every instrument. He was a great singer and entertainer. He also had a raucous and wonderful sense of humor. Roy, and his extraordinary talent and warm heart, will be greatly missed.”
Born April 15, 1933, in Meherrin, VA, but growing up in Staten Island, NY, Roy became interested in the banjo, guitar, and mandolin at the age of 14, learning to play all three. By the following year, he’d won two National Banjo Championships as well as the world banjo/guitar flatpick championships. While this would seem to be completely time-consuming, he also decided to give sports a try, doing his best in baseball and boxing, but ultimately deciding that music was his true calling.
By the mid-1950s, his career was starting to gain momentum. He was a regular on the television series Jimmy Dean’s Washington, D.C., and in 1960 he went to Las Vegas to work as a guitarist for bandleader-comedian Hank Penny, while simultaneously working in the backing band for singer Wanda Jackson. Then, when Jimmy Dean was guest-hosting The Tonight Show, he invited Roy on as a guest, which instantly gave him national exposure. This led to a recurring role on the sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies and a guest appearance on The Odd Couple. But his biggest break came in the form of the television series Hee Haw.
A mix of country music and comedy, Hee Haw originally ran on CBS from 1969 to 1971, but then it went into syndication — meaning that it was run on local stations across the country rather than on one of the networks — from 1971 to 1993. It was hosted by Roy and Buck Owen. Enormously popular, it’s something that Roy remained proud of until the day he died.
“I’ve told everyone that I grew old on Hee Haw, but I could’ve grown old without it,” he related to NPR, offering this explanation for the show’s popularity: “I think basically, we didn’t hurt anyone. We were out there having a good time. You can go and get educated, but you can come to Hee Haw and get another education. The critics all said that the only listeners that we had were country, and I said, ‘Wait a minute — I was just in New York City, and I was walking down the street and the guy yells across and says, “Hey, Roy, I’m a-picking.”‘ Well, I’m obligated to say, ‘Well, I’m a-grinning.'”
Between Hee Haw and the music that he made over his lifetime — much of which brought wins at numerous Country Music Awards — Roy Clark left a lot of us a-grinning as well. Now we’re just smiling through the tears.