Country singer Porter Wagoner is best remembered for his flashy handmade rhinestone suits and blond pompadour on his TV show, “The Porter Wagoner Show.” Porter Wagoner made his debut as a country music singer when he joined ABC’s Ozark Mountain Jubilee, one of the first nationally televised country music shows. He signed with RCA Records in 1955 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957. He launched his own TV show, The Porter Wagoner Show, in 1960. Wagoner was also remembered for hiring Dolly Parton as his duet partner in 1967.
Born Porter Wayne Wagoner on August 12, 1927, in West Plains, Missouri, he spent hours as a child pretending to be an Opry performer, using a tree stump as a stage. Wagoner started in radio, then became a regular on ABC’s Ozark Mountain Jubilee, one of the first nationally televised country music shows. He signed with RCA Records in 1955 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957, calling it “the greatest place in the world to have a career in country music.” Known as “The Thin Man From West Plains” because of his lanky frame, he launched his own TV show, “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1960. It was one of the first syndicated shows out of Nashville, remaining on the air until 1981. Wagoner was famous for his flashy handmade rhinestone suits (he had more than 60) and blond pompadour.
Wagoner was also remembered for hiring Dolly Parton as his duet partner in 1967, boosting the 21-year-old’s career just when she was beginning to gain notice. In 1974, she left the show for stardom with pop hits and movies such as 9 to 5. Wagoner sued Parton for $3 million in assets, but they settled out of court in 1980. They reconciled in the late 1980s. Parton inducted Wagoner to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and was present when Wagoner was honored for his silver anniversary with the Opry in May 2007. She also visited him in the hospital as he battled cancer.
Wagoner had a string of country hits in the ’60s, including “A Satisfied Mind,” “Misery Loves Company, Company’s Comin’,” “Skid Row Joe” and “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” The songs often told stories of tragedy or despair. In “Carroll County Accident,” a married man having an affair is killed in a car crash. He also won three Grammy Awards for gospel recordings. In the 1980’s, Wagoner continued with the Opry, and appeared in the movie Honky Tonk Man starring Clint Eastwood. He stopped making records after RCA dropped him from the label, complaining that record executives wouldn’t give him sufficient creative control.
In May 2007, he signed with ANTI- records and released his final album Wagonmaster earning him some of the best reviews of his career. Over the summer, he opened for the influential rock duo White Stripes at a sold-out show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Country music singer Porter Wagoner died of lung cancer on October 28, 2007 in a Nashville hospice. He is survived by his son, Richard, and two daughters, Denise and Debra.