Country music veteran Roy Clark dies at 85

Roy Clark, country guitarist, co-host of the long-running TV series Hee Haw and Country Music Hall of Fame member, has died at the age of 85.

Beginning in 1983, Clark operated the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in Branson, Missouri, and was one of the first country entertainers to open a theater there. Every Saturday we'd watch Hee Haw.

Roy Clark and Brad Paisley perform onstage at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on November 2, 2016. I practiced his style, then practiced making his facial expressions.

Clark was the Hee Haw host or co-host for its entire 24-year run, with Buck Owens his best known co-host. Roy played the guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and many other instruments.

"I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played", Clark once said. "I remember one time he had surgery, I believe for his gallbladder", she said. So they'd say, 'Well, let's get the kid.' Later, I got to where when I looked at the camera, I didn't see a mechanical device. "I saw eyeballs laid out on a guy's cheek".

The always smiling, fleet-fingered multi-instrumentalist was born in Virginia and raised in NY and Washington, D.C. After winning multiple guitar and banjo championships and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager, Clark became a regular on Jimmy Dean's D.C-area TV show.

Raised in Washington, he performed with jazz, rock and so-called "hillbilly" groups at local clubs, and appeared on singer Jimmy Dean's country television show before being fired for habitual tardiness, according to a 1984 account in The Washington Post.

"He said, 'Clark, you're gonna be a big star someday, but right now I can't afford to have someone like you around", Clark said in a 1988 Tennessean article. In 1960, he got the chance to front the band of country singer Wanda Jackson. His solo career catapulted when he took Bill Anderson's "Tips of My Fingers" hit to No. 10 on the country charts.

When the network canceled the show two-and-a-half years later, the program moved into syndication and aired until 1992.

Additionally, Clark was a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

In addition to being an affable TV host, Clark was also a skilled country musician himself. Though he was no slouch as a comedian, as Hee-Haw and appearances on The Odd Couple and The Beverly Hillbillies attest, it's ultimately his unbelievable musical skills that will be his legacy, as he proved with regular performances at his theater in Branson throughout the nineties and 'aughts.

Clark entered the Grand Ole Opry in 1987 and performed his hit tune "Yesterday, When I Was Young" at the request of Mickey Mantle at the Yankee great's funeral. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside Barbara Mandrell and Charlie McCoy.

  • Kyle Peterson