HOUSTON—The movie Urban Cowboy made country music cool, a mechanical bull famous, and launched singer Mickey Gilley into super stardom.
“Urban Cowboy kicked my career in high gear, and opened so many doors it was unbelievable,” Gilley said.
He was booked in Vegas, played at the White House and got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hollywood producers picked his nightclub for the movie after seeing an article about it in Esquire magazine. Ironically, Gilley didn’t like the article.
“I was disappointed in the article because I thought he was making fun of country music, every other word was boy meets girl, twang, twang, it was twang twang this and twang twang that,” he said.
But he took the twang to the bank. He had a No. 1 song on the movie’s soundtrack, “Stand by Me.”
He rode the Urban Cowboy wave for the next five years.
“I was travelling like a rock star,” he said. “It was fun.”
But the fun didn’t last. By the mid 80s he was locked in a legal feud with the club’s co-owner, and the hits dried up.
Then in 1989, Gilley’s nightclub went up in flames. The famous club was gone and the soaring career stalled, but Gilley still had music in his blood, so he went to Branson, Missouri.
Branson is a mecca for live music, and Gilley opened his theatre in 1990. Next door there’s Gilley’s Texas Cafe with photos of the famous, the outfit he wore in Urban Cowboy and a white leather number, which was tricky on a hot stage.
“I would perspire and it would get very, very wet and turn different colors,” he said with a laugh.
He was no longer a superstar, but just happy to be performing until tragedy struck in 2009.
“In a matter of just a few seconds—changed my life totally,” he said.
It was a freak accident, he fell while helping a friend move a couch in Branson. He was paralyzed from the neck down. He spent weeks at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston and six months in rehab. He learned to walk again, but lost his ability to play piano. He started playing at age 13.
“It’s devastating, I got it up here, but I ain’t got it down here, my hands just don’t work well enough to play the piano,” he said.
Still it’s been quite a ride for the kid who grew up singing gospel in Ferriday, Louisiana.
Gilley, who is now 76, jokes about the accident with the couch.
His voice of experience says if you want help moving furniture call, “two men and a truck.”
Gilley is scheduled to play at Stafford Centre on Nov. 15 with Johnny Lee.