Western Actor Roy Rogers Dies of Heart Ailment at 86

By Butters, Patrick | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 7, 1998 | Go to article overview

Western Actor Roy Rogers Dies of Heart Ailment at 86


Butters, Patrick, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Roy Rogers, whose twangy mix of song and six-gun made him Hollywood's "King of the Cowboys," died yesterday at his home in Apple Valley, Calif. He was 86.

Mr. Rogers died of congestive heart failure. His 85-year-old wife and singing partner, Dale Evans, was with him at the time.

"What a blessing to have shared my life together with him for almost 51 years," said Miss Evans.

The singing cowboy star appeared in 87 movies. He was ranked in a magazine poll of theater operators as the biggest box-office cowboy star for 12 consecutive years.

His rip-roaring adventures co-starred his golden palomino, Trigger, and, for 26 films, Miss Evans and her horse, Buttermilk. Gabby Hayes played Roy's wheezing sidekick in film, and Pat Brady was his TV pal. "Happy Trails to You," which he wrote with Miss Evans, was their theme song.

The homespun song summed up the fun of the Rogers Westerns: optimistic, high-thrills chases with the hero always winning in the end. Bad guys more often suffered the embarrassment of guns shot out of their hands rather than flesh wounds.

"I really appreciate what he stood for, the movies he made and the kind of values they embodied," President Clinton said yesterday. "Today there will be a lot of sad and grateful Americans, especially of my generation, because of his career."

Mr. Rogers' film and business career paralleled that of Gene Autry, another singing cowboy star. Both turned film careers into lucrative business holdings, although each denied a rivalry.

"This is a terrible loss for me," Mr. Autry, 90, said in a released statement. "I had tremendous respect for Roy and considered him a great humanitarian and an outstanding American. He was, and will always be, a true Western hero."

Mr. Rogers went on to television success from 1951 to 1957. Clayton Moore, TV's "Lone Ranger," called Mr. Rogers "just a good, straightforward man. He always treated people with kindness."

Mr. Rogers also made headlines in the early 1950s when he tried to share in Republic Studios' TV profits from his old movies. He sued and won in a lower court but lost in the Supreme Court.

His popularity in films waned, he says, because of that fight and changing times. By the 1960s, violence in the media, and blurred lines between good and evil, had soured Mr. Rogers on Westerns.

"When I was a boy, our parents taught us that hitting below the belt was a cowardly thing," he once said. "I don't believe this kind of thing is `entertainment' no matter how you look at it. . . . I'm not a prude or anything, but I think [sex and violence] is overdone."

He took his wholesome image to other endeavors, starting rodeos and becoming a celebrated pitchman for the Roy Rogers Family Restaurants. He also invested heavily in real estate and owned a TV production company. Still, his cowboy image was so lasting that even in recent years he was still appearing at openings for D.C.-area McDonald's restaurants.

"He came from nothing," said film critic Leonard Maltin. "He earned everything he ever had and remained a modest, simple man. He portrayed himself as a good, honest man and that's what he was."

Born Leonard Slye on Nov. 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, Mr. Rogers dropped out of high school and moved to California with his father. He drove a truck and picked peaches. He found singing easier, eventually forming the Sons of the Pioneers.

When Mr. …

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