Merle Kilgore, a legendary figure in country music, died last night (Feb. 6) from congestive heart failure onset from complications related to his ongoing treatment for cancer. Kilgore, 70, was in a M
Merle Kilgore, a legendary figure in country music, died last night (Feb. 6) of congestive heart failure from complications related to his ongoing treatment for cancer. Kilgore, 70, was in a Mexico hospital undergoing experimental treatments at the time of his death.
The multi-talented Kilgore had a varied career ranging from successes as a songwriter to his most recent role as personal manager for Hank Williams Jr. He was also an artist in his own right, as well as an actor.
As a songwriter, he is best known for co-writing Johnny Cash's 1963 No. 1 hit "Ring of Fire" with June Carter Cash. He also penned Claude King's 1962 No. 1 hit "Wolverton Mountain" and wrote Webb Pierce's hit "More and More," which stayed at No. 1 on Billboard's country singles chart for 10 weeks in 1954.
As a performer, Kilgore landed eight cuts on Billboard's country singles chart between 1960-1985, including "Love Has Made You Beautiful," a top-10 hit in 1960. He recorded for Starday, Columbia, Warner Bros. and Elektra. As an actor, he appeared in seven films.
In his role as Williams' manager -- a job he held at the time of his death -- he earned the Country Music Assn.'s accolade for manager of the year. Among his other honors, the Shreveport, La.-raised Kilgore was a member of the Louisiana Hall of Fame and was an honorary Tennessee state senator.
Kilgore also volunteered his time to the industry, serving as both a director and VP of the CMA board. He served at various times as president of Nashville Songwriters Assn. International, the Nashville Songwriters Foundation and the Reunion of Professional Entertainers.
He is survived by his wife, Judy; sons Steve and Duane Kilgore; daughters Pam Compton, Kim Pomeroy and Shane McBee; eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
"I'm numb," Williams tells Billboard.biz. "How do I find the words to describe who Merle Kilgore was? He was more than my manager. He was a father figure, he was a mentor, he was my business advisor, but most of all, Merle Kilgore was my best friend."
Visitation will be held Feb. 14 from 4-8 p.m. at the Hendersonville (Tenn.) Funeral Home. The funeral will take place the following day at 11 a.m., followed by a memorial service at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Performers and speakers for the memorial will be announced shortly.