The Original Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry, Dead At 91

Vocalist/guitarist achieved vast success as recording artist, television and movie star and businessman.

Gene Autry, Hollywood's original singing cowboy, known for such hits as his signature

"Back in the Saddle Again" and the holiday staple "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,"

as well as for his wholesome, all-American persona, passed away Friday (Oct. 2) at the

age of 91.

The longtime singer/guitarist, radio and television personality, movie star and

businessman, whose recording catalog includes more than 200 songs written or

co-written by him, died at his home in Studio City, Calif., according to the Autry Museum

of Western Heritage.

Kyle Young, acting director of the Country Music Hall of Fame, commented on Autry's

passing in a statement issued Friday.

"The Country Music Hall of Fame -- and all of America -- has lost a great friend and a

great example for us all," Young said. "Gene Autry was a self-made man who took a

talent for singing and acting in Hollywood Westerns and turned it into the American


"In his movies and in his life, he epitomized the best in the American character: bravery,

fairness, honesty, and kindness to the weak and needy. We're proud that Gene Autry has

been a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1969."

Autry's death comes just three months after the passing of Hollywood's other famed

singing cowboy, Roy Rogers, who died July 6.

Born Sept. 29, 1907, Autry gained entry to show business through a chance encounter

with comedian Will Rogers in 1929. He did a stint as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy" on

KVOO radio in Tulsa, Okla., before heading to Hollywood, Calif. Between 1934 and

1953, Autry starred in 91 feature films, helping to popularize and romanticize the

musical-Western genre.

He achieved comparable success as a recording artist. Autry's platinum recordings

include the albums Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Back in the Saddle Again

and the children's records Here Comes Santa Claus and Peter Cottontail.

His hits include his signature song, "Back in the Saddle Again" (RealAudio excerpt), and the Christmas

standard "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (RealAudio excerpt).

Autry enjoyed a long career both in radio -- as part of the "Melody Ranch" show from

1940 to 1956 -- and in television, with "The Gene Autry Show," making 91 episodes in all

before moving behind the scenes to produce such television series as "Annie Oakley,"

"Buffalo Bill Jr.," "Range Rider" and "Death Valley Days."

In addition to a storied career in media and film, Autry was an astute businessman and

parlayed his earnings into ownership of such media outlets as KMPC-AM radio and KTLA-TV

in Los Angeles. A lifelong baseball fan, Autry purchased the California Angels professional baseball team in 1961

and served as the vice president of the American League until his death.

His many accolades and honors include the American Academy of Achievement Award,

the Songwriters Guild Life Achievement Award and induction into the Country Music Hall

of Fame, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Association of Broadcasters

Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

James Nottage, vice president and curator of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, said one of the more fascinating aspects of Autry's legacy is the fact he's known for different facets of his career by different generations of people.

"He had an impact on several generations. A radio generation in the '20s and '30s, a film generation in the '40s and '50s and television generations after that," Nottage said. "The kids in grade school that come to the museum today have no connection to him in those capacities and think of him in terms of baseball."

A public tribute to Autry is slated to take place Oct. 18 at the Autry Museum of Western

Heritage in Los Angeles. The event will feature special exhibitions and screenings of

Autry's films.