Slim Whitman dies of heart failure

Legendary country singer Slim Whitman died of heart failure on June 19, 2013 surrounded by his family at Orange Park Medical Centre in Orange Park, Florida. He was 90. Best known for the world-wide hits “Rose Marie,” “Indian Love Call” and “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” in a career that stretched back to the late 1940s he recorded more than 60 albums and sold millions of records around the world. He was especially popular in the UK with sell-out appearances at the London Palladium and for more than 30 years held the record for the most weeks at number one on the British pop charts with Rose Marie, which topped the charts for 11 weeks in 1955. Though his biggest successes were in the 1950s, he continued recording and touring well into his eighties with record breaking UK tours that often ran for several months at a time. His influence stretched way outside of traditional country music. The late pop singer Michael Jackson cited Whitman as one of his ten favourite vocalists. Beatle George Harrison cited Whitman as an early influence: “The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman, either a photo of him in a magazine or live on television. Guitars were definitely coming in.” Paul McCartney credited a poster of Whitman with giving him the idea of playing his guitar left-handed with his guitar strung the opposite way to a right-handed player’s. The 1996 film Mars Attacks! features Whitman’s rendition of “Indian Love Call” as a weapon against alien invaders. In 2003, Rob Zombie used Whitman’s song “I Remember You” in his movie directorial debut in House of 1000 Corpses. His first major hit, “Love Song of the Waterfall,” came in 1952 and 25 years later it became part of the soundtrack of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1956 he became the first ever country music singer to perform at the London Palladium. Soon after, Whitman was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, and in 1957, along with other musical stars, he appeared in the film musical Jamboree. Despite this exposure, he never achieved the level of stardom in the United States that he did in Britain, where he had a number of other hits during the 1950s. Throughout the early 1970s, he continued to record and was a guest on Wolfman Jack’s television show The Midnight Special. At the time, Whitman’s recording efforts were yielding only minor hits. In 1979, Whitman produced a TV commercial to support Suffolk Marketing’s release of a greatest hits compilation titled All My Best, which went on to be the best-selling TV-marketed record in music history, with almost 1.5 million units sold. Just For You (also under the Suffolk umbrella), followed in 1980, with a commercial that claimed Whitman “was number one in England longer than Elvis and The Beatles.” The Best followed in 1982, with Whitman concluding his TV marketing with Best Loved Favourites in 1989 and 20 Precious Memories in 1991. The TV albums made Whitman (briefly) a household name in America for the first time in his career, resulting in everything from a first-time appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson to Whitman being spoofed in a comic skit on SCTV with him (played by Joe Flaherty) starring in the Che-like male lead in an Evita-like Broadway musical on the life of Indira Gandhi. More importantly, the TV albums gave him a brief resurgence in mainstream country music with new album releases on major labels and a few new singles making the country chart. During this time he toured Europe and Australia with moderate success. In late January 2008, a false rumour of his death spread through the internet, believed to have been started by an erroneous report posted on the Web site of the Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Country singer George Hamilton IV is reported to have dedicated and sang a hymn in Whitman’s honour at a concert appearance. In 2010, Whitman released the album, Twilight on the Trail, his first new studio LP in 26 years. There will be a full tribute to the late Slim Whitman in the September/October issue of Maverick, on sale August 2.

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