Mickey Gilley Back on Stage Five Years After a Fall: 'I Couldn't Move. I Was Scared to Death'

Mickey Gilley

Last Friday was a big night in the career of Mickey Gilley. The veteran performer hit the stage in Claremore, Oklahoma. It was the first date that Gilley has played on the road in five years – a time span that was traumatic for the Louisiana native.

"On July 5, 2009, I fell, and was paralyzed from the neck down for about three months," he recalled to Billboard.  "I began to slowly get some feeling back in my legs and my arms. I'm back to the point where I'm walking now. I can't play the piano yet, but my goal is to be back on the golf course by the end of the spring, and to be back at the piano by the fall. Whether I make both of them or not, I don't know, but I'm definitely going to make one of them," he said in an optimistic tone.

The entertainer recalls how the fall took place. "I was helping a guy move a couch that weighed about fifty pounds, I grabbed one end and he grabbed the other. I had played about thirty-six holes of golf that day, and I was getting ready to go to my theater for a show. I backed out of a door, stepped in a flower bed and fell backwards. I woke up two days later in the hospital at Springfield, Mo, wearing a neck brace, and I couldn't move. I was scared to death."

The fact that Gilley can walk today is nothing short of a miracle, as he says he had no idea how long his odds were for a recovery. 

"At the time they told me it was going to take a long time to get better," he said. "What I didn't know and found out through some of the nurses, the doctors doubted very seriously that I would ever walk again. They thought I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. But, I'm walking – not well, but I told somebody ‘I'm walking like an old man,' but guess what, I am!"

Gilley has continued to play shows at his theater in Branson, MO four days a week, but says that the road is equally special to him. "It makes me excited when I walk out on stage, and sing the songs, and you see people sing along, and you know they have listened to your music."

And, he's got plenty of music to choose from. In a career that has included over 40 singles in the Billboard Top 40 Country charts between 1974 and 1989, he topped the chart seventeen times. One of his biggest was 1976's late night anthem "Don't The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time." He recalled that he recorded the song in spite of some well-intentioned advice from a fellow country superstar.

"I was touring at the time with Conway and Loretta," Gilley said, "and I played it for him because he was so good at picking out hit songs. He looked me in the eye, and said, ‘I don't think you need to do this song.' I asked him why, and he said ‘Don't you know the ladies are the ones that buy the most records? Think about it, you're putting them down, saying they get prettier at closing time.' I said, yeah, buy my drinking buddies will love it because it's a true story.' Sure enough, it went number one, and I always thank the guys for making it number one for me."

Quite possibly his signature moment came in 1980, with the release of "Stand By Me," from the soundtrack of the film Urban Cowboy. Gilley said that was a gane changer. "When that film came out, I was stuck in the middle of a period in my career where I wasn't a big enough act to be a headlining act. When that hit, it launched Johnny Lee and me into the stratosphere, as he had ‘Lookin' For Love' on the soundtrack as well. I played Vegas, Reno, Europe, and did a USO tour because of all the success. So, every night when I go to bed at night, I thank John Travolta for keeping my career alive."

Speaking of Urban Cowboy, which was filmed at his famous Gilley's nightclub, did he ever ride the legendary mechanical bull? "I rode it very slow," he said with a laugh, then pauses and says with perfect timing "I have to admit that it would have been a better story if I had just said I got hurled off the bull." 

Mickey Gilley Concert Dates 

April 12  Godrey, IL – Lewis & Clark College
April 19  Arlington, TX – Arlington Music Hall
May 8-10 Jackpot, NV – Cactus Petes
May 16    Clinton, IA – Wild Rose Casino
May 17    Emmetsburg, IA – Wild Rose Casino
June 25   Pasadena, TX – Stafford Centre
June 26   Midland-Odessa, TX – Wagner Noel PAC
June 27  Greenville, TX – Greenville Municipal Auditorium
July 13    Lancaster, PA – American Music Theater
July 19    Biloxi, MS – IP Casino
July 30    Shreveport, LA – Casino