Mickey Gilley was a country music legend who recorded 42 singles that reached the top 40 on the U.S. Country charts and 17 No. 1 country hits. His most famous songs include “Room Full of Roses”, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time”, and “Stand by Me.”
Gilley was born at the height of the depression in 1936 and raised in small-town Ferriday, Louisiana. In his childhood, he would play the piano and sing gospel and boogie-woogie songs with his cousins:
• Jerry Lee Lewis, who became famous in the 1950s with dozens of hit records such as “Great Balls of Fire”
• Jimmy Swaggart, who became a televangelist heard on more than 3000 stations around the world but was brought down by sex scandals
• Carl McVoy, who had one chart-topping hit, “You Are My Sunshine,” before leaving the music industry to start a construction company
The huge success of Jerry Lee Lewis as “rock n roll’s first great wild man” inspired Mickey Gilley to turn professional himself, and to adopt Lewis’s distinctive boogie-woogie piano style. The three cousins were inducted together into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame on March 2, 2002.
The World’s Biggest Honky-Tonk
Gilley was married at age 17 and didn’t release his first album, Down the Line, until he was 31 years old in 1967. Four years later, at age 35, he opened a huge night club, “Gilley’s Club” in Pasadena, Texas, where he sang and played piano and steel guitar. The club seated 5000 people so he called it the “world’s biggest honky tonk”, and in 1980 it was used as the setting for the very successful movie, Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta and a mechanical bull.
In 1989, at age 53, his club was closed down after an out-of-court settlement with co-owner Sherwood Cryer. At age 70, he opened another “Gilley’s Club” in Dallas. In July 2009, while helping a neighbor move some furniture, he tripped and a loveseat fell on top of him. The accident crushed four vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He gradually learned how to walk again and one year later he returned to the concert stage, but he lost some of his coordination and was no longer able to play the piano.
On May 7, 2022, Mickey Gilley died at age 86 from complications of bone cancer that had caused kidney failure and pneumonia.
Doctors don’t know very much about the causes of bone cancer. You are at increased risk if you have had previous radiation treatment or chemotherapy, or other bone conditions such as Paget’s disease in which a person makes new bone faster than normal so it can cause bone pain, deformities and fractures. The warning signs of bone cancer include bone pain, swelling, or fractures.
Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Immunotherapy and vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to attack the cancer in the same way that it kills invading germs, but so far it is effective only some of the time. See Jim Allison’s Nobel Prize: Toward a Cure for Cancer for more on the development of immunotherapy treatments. If you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, make sure your doctor or team of doctors can explain all of the available options and help you decide if any of the recent advances or experimental treatments are appropriate for you.
Mickey Leroy Gilley
March 9, 1936 – May 7, 2022