Mickey GilleyMickey Gilley made a triumphant return to his own Mickey Gilley Theater in Branson, Mo. on April 12, after nine long, agonizing months of being sidelined by a paralyzing, life-threatening injury last July, when he fell while helping a friend move a piece of furniture.

Fans who have flocked to the 74-year-old's theater for over 20 years, couldn't have been more thrilled to have their man back in the fold. "We were really worried about him that he'd even get to come back," said one fan who had traveled all the way from Illinois to see her favorite performer. "After every show we've waited for an autograph, and he's always so nice!"

Ticket office clerk Lyn Walker said that on Mickey's first night back she was selling tickets as fast as the machine would print them.

Roy Rogers, Jr. kept the seats full with a morning show for all these months. "He's kept all of his employees," said Roy, Jr., adding, "and that says a lot for the character of a person and Mickey's got that character." Mickey's friend and sidekick, comedian and musician Joey Riley also helped hold the fort down in the entertainer's absence.

"I'm a little exhausted because of the injury I had," Mickey tells the Boot of his comeback. "It takes a lot of energy to go out and do the show, but you pull from the audience. They've been so nice to me the last few days. I'm doing a full schedule now five days a week. I have to rest a little bit in the afternoon. I try to rest two or three hours in the afternoon so I get up and take my shower, I go to the theater and I do the show. I come back and I go to bed. I've been doing acupuncture and reflexology and massage therapy. And the other day I went to the gym and worked out. I'm getting where I can walk a little bit better but I still can't walk for a long distance."

The 950-seat theater was near capacity. "We had over 800 in the theater, and we did a two-and-a-half hour show," says Mickey. "I walked out on stage. I did my show from a chair but my vocals came off pretty good. I didn't have any problems. I just can't walk a long ways, I can't stand up for a long time, but at the end of the show I stood up and [the audience] stood up. I think they enjoyed the show. They acted like they did. I did some new songs ... I did some of the hits, and I told them some stories about touring with Conway [Twitty] and Loretta [Lynn] and how my first No. 1 hit 'A Room Full of Roses' came about."

The production staff surprised Mickey with a video recorded by all the acts on the Branson strip welcoming him back -- Jim Stafford, Andy Williams, Neal McCoy and Moe Bandy among others. Andy and Moe were in the audience for his opening night performance. "Andy said that Branson missed me, he missed me, and everybody was looking forward to me coming back. That meant a lot!"

Of his return to the stage, Mickey confesses there were some opening night jitters ... but not on his part. "Everybody was nervous but me I think. All my staff was wondering if I were going to be able to pull it off after the injury. I walked out, and they sat me on a chair that rolled, and I rolled right in front of the stage and started doing my opening song ... and then I followed it with 'I Overlooked an Orchid, 'Window Up Above,' and 'City Lights.' So I did the four No. 1 songs I had right in a row, and I told them about the fact that those songs opened up the door for me, and I got to tour with Conway and Loretta. And that's when my career started to change."

Mickey reflects on his decision to connect with the audience and fans again, saying, "It's wonderful to be back to work again. I want to perform and enjoy doing the songs that have been hits for me. If it wasn't for the fact that I love to perform, I would have retired. But that's not in my blood. I'll probably drop dead on stage!"

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