He Had a Huge Country Career, and So Did His Bar

Mickey Gilley, whose club inspired the John Travolta movie 'Urban Cowboy,' is dead at 86
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 8, 2022 5:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Country star Mickey Gilley, whose namesake Texas honky-tonk inspired the 1980 film Urban Cowboy and a nationwide wave of Western-themed nightspots, has died at 86. Gilley died Saturday in Branson, Missouri, where he helped run the Mickey Gilley Grand Shanghai Theatre, per the AP. He had been performing as recently as last month, but was in failing health over the past week. “He passed peacefully with his family and close friends by his side,” according a statement from Mickey Gilley Associates.

Gilley—cousin of rock and roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis—opened Gilley’s, “the world’s largest honky tonk,” in Pasadena, Texas, in the early 1970s. By mid-decade, he was a successful club owner and had enjoyed his first commercial success with “Room Full of Roses." He began turning out country hits regularly, including “Window Up Above,” “She's Pulling Me Back Again," and the honky-tonk anthem “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time.” Overall, he had 39 Top 10 country hits and 17 No. 1 songs. He received six Academy of Country Music Awards, and also worked on occasion as an actor, with appearances on Murder She Wrote, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island, and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Meanwhile, the giant nightspot’s attractions, including its famed mechanical bull, led to the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger and regarded by many as a countrified version of Travolta’s 1977 disco smash, Saturday Night Fever. The film inspired by Gilley’s club was based on an Esquire article by Aaron Latham about the relationship between two regulars at the club. “I thank John Travolta every night before bed for keeping my career alive,” Gilley told the AP in 2002. “It’s impossible to tell you how grateful I am for my involvement with Urban Cowboy. That film had a huge impact on my career, and still does.” (Read other notable obituaries.)

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