Roy Clark, Hee Haw Host, Dead at 85

Roy Clark and Brad Paisley perform onstage at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena

Roy Clark and Brad Paisley perform onstage at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena

In 1969, he became the host of country comedy program Hee-Haw, a post he would hold for almost a quarter of a century, until the show's demise in 1993.

Clark was a staple on both radio and TV throughout the 1960s, performing on almost every variety show of that era. He could throw down with the best of them - not just country pickers, but bluesmen Gatemouth Brown (with whom he appeared in a memorable double-header episode of Austin City Limits in 1980) and Count Basie.

He also played banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and other instruments.

In addition to being an affable TV host, Clark was also a skilled country musician himself. His musical style proved an influence on countless country artists after him and, after building a following through his music, Hee Haw and appearances on The Tonight Show, he opened the Missouri-based Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in 1983, a pioneering business move that provided a venue to foster young musical talent for decades after.

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And of course, he also was a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Born Roy Linwood Clark on April 15, 1933 in Meherrin, Va., he grew up mostly in Washington, D.C., and gained a love of all kinds of music early on.

In his 1994 autobiography, "My Life in Spite of Myself", he said "Yesterday, When I Was Young" had "opened a lot of people's eyes not only to what I could do but to the whole fertile and still largely untapped field of country music, from the Glen Campbells and the Kenny Rogerses, right on through to the Garth Brookses and Vince Gills".

In 1963, he had his first Top Ten hit with his somber version of Bill Anderson's "Tips of My Fingers".

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Amid the success of "Hee Haw", Clark toured the Soviet Union, bringing country behind the Iron Curtain in the mid-1970s, and starred in the Western comedy "Uphill All the Way" with singer Mel Tillis.

His biggest hit was 1969's "Yesterday When I Was Young". In 1960, he fronted Wanda Jackson's band, and two years later he landed his first label contract, with Capitol Records. The viewers were sort of part owners of the show.

'This was the icing on the cake.

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