'Hee Haw' Host & Legendary Country 'Superpicker' Roy Clark Dies at 85

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Roy Clark

Legendary country "superpicker" and Hee Haw host Roy Clark died at age 85 at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday (Nov. 15) due to complications from pneumonia. The Grammy, CMA and ACM Award winner and Country Music Hall of Fame member's death was confirmed by a spokesperson. 

Clark, a multi-instrumentalist who became a household star thanks to a 20-year stint as the co-host (along with Buck Owens) of prime time country variety show Hee Haw -- the longest-running syndicated show in TV history -- is credited with being one of the first artists to cross over from the country to pop charts, while also popularizing Branson, Missouri as a live music destination. 

Known for his warm smile and a string of indelible hits, including "Yesterday, When I Was Young," "Thank God and Greyhound," Come Live With Me," "Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow" and "Honeymoon Feelin'," Clark was a master of the banjo, guitar and mandolin, which he began playing as a child. 

Born in Meherrin, Virginia, on April 15, 1933, Clark won a national banjo competition in 1950 and was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which scored him gigs playing with Ernest Tubb and Red Foley, then, in 1955, a regular run on Jimmy Dean's Country Style TV show, which Clark took over before joining Wanda Jackson's band in 1960. It was during that stint with the Jackson that Clark got his first taste of playing rooms in Las Vegas casinos, where he would later find success as a headliner thanks to his ability to play styles ranging from country and early rock to jazz and pop, including a bit where he wowed audiences by strumming with his feet.

The spotlight led to Clark landing a regular spot as a guest-host on The Tonight Show, where his amiable, approachable persona made him a natural in late night as well as prime time, where he played two recurring characters on The Beverly Hillbillies, Cousin Roy and his mother, Myrtle. His recording career took off in 1960 when he was signed by Capitol Records and released 1962's The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark, which spawned a No. 45 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with his version of Bill Anderson's "Tips of My Fingers."

In all, Clark had 50 entries on the Hot Country Songs chart, including the 1973 No. 1 hit "Come Live With Me," as well as nine top 10s and 24 top 40 hits. In a testament to his crossover success, Clark also scored six entries on the Billboard Hot 100, including a chart-high No. 19 spot in Aug. 1969 with "Yesterday, When I Was Young," as well as 28 entries on the Top Country Albums chart, where he landed nine top 10s, peaking with the Jan. 1974 No. 2 for Roy Clark's Family Album.

In addition to his charting songs and albums, Clark began a regular face on TV commercials and shows during the 1970s, and in 1976 became the first American artist to perform in the Soviet Union. He opened the Roy Clark Celebrity Theater in Branson in 1983 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 and released the self-deprecatingly titled autobiography, My Life -- In Spite of Myself!, in 1994.

Clark won the CMA Award for entertainer of the year in 1973, as well as for instrumental group of the year in 1975 and 1976 (with banjoist Buck Trent), and instrumentalist of the year in 1977, 1978 and 1980. He also won a Grammy for best country instrumental performance in 1982 for his rendition of "Alabama Jubilee."

“Roy Clark made best use of his incredible talent," said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young in a statement. "He was both a showman and a virtuoso, with a love of music that beamed across air waves and into millions of living rooms, where families gathered to watch and listen." Clark's famously ended his shows by telling his audience, "We had to come, but you had a choice," according to a statement on his death. "Thanks for being here." According to a spokesperson, a memorial celebration will be held for Clark in the coming day in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

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