Roy Clark, host of the classic country music and sketch show Hee Haw, and a legendary multi-instrumentalist, has died at age 85. He passed away at his home in Tulsa, Okla., due to complications from pneumonia, according to announcements from his publicists.
Clark hosted the beloved Hee Haw for nearly 25 years, beginning in 1969, where he helped usher country music into the national spotlight—even spreading it to international ears, too (he once trail-blazed a tour across the Soviet Union). With Hee Haw as a platform, Clark became something of a spokesperson for the then-burgeoning genre. He was adored as both the high-energy face of Hee Haw and as a crossover artist, landing singles, such as 1969’s “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” on the country charts and the pop charts. His talents helped him become a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, and he also won a Grammy in 1983 for Best Country Instrumental Performance for his take on the bluegrass standard “Alabama Jubilee.”
Clark, also a singer, was considered one of the great multi-instrumentalists in the history of country music, adept at guitar, mandolin and banjo. It was the latter two, though, that got him started in the music world, and allowed him to showcase his extremely flexible finger-picking skills. He received his first guitar at age 14 as a Christmas present, but made the switch to banjo soon after. He was still a teenager when he snagged his first invitation to perform at the Grand Ole Opry after winning a banjo competition in 1950. He then became a regular on Country Style, a TV show hosted by Jimmy Dean in Clark’s native Washington, D.C. He followed Dean as the show’s next host, then took off as television regular in the 1960s, landing a ton of stints on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. Some of his other hits include “The Tips of My Fingers,” from his first album The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark (and lightning-fast, they were indeed), 1973’s “Come Live with Me” and “Somewhere Between Love and Tomorrow.”
In addition to his musical successes, Clark is remembered for his contributions to Branson, Mo. He helped transform the Midwestern town into a musical destination after opening the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre there in 1983.
Numerous members of the country community, including Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, sounded off on Twitter today in remembrance of the country legend. Here’s what they had to say in honor of Roy Clark:
also shared her sentiments, writing, “Roy Clark was one of the greatest ever. His spirit will never die. I loved him dearly and he will be missed,” per a press release.
Listen to Roy Clark perform at the Broadway Theatre in New York circa 1982 below.