Slim Whitman Dies at 90
Country star Slim Whitman has passed away. Jacksonville.com reports that Whitman, 90, died Wednesday (June 19) of heart failure at Orange Park Medical Center in Orange County, Fla. His son-in-law, Roy Beagle, confirmed the news to the Associated Press.
Whitman was famous for his smooth falsetto delivery and yodeling ability, as well as his trademark mustache and sideburns, which became the focus of an SCTV spoof after a series of TV commercials that pitched his recordings to fans via direct marketing.
The singer-songwriter and instrumentalist was right-handed, but taught himself to play guitar left-handed after losing most of the second finger of his left hand in an accident. Paul McCartney later cited seeing a poster of him as the inspiration for re-stringing his guitar to play left-handed. Michael Jackson cited Whitman as one of his favorite vocalists, and George Harrison recalled that Whitman was the first person he ever saw playing a guitar, either on TV or in a magazine. A young Elvis Presley once served as Whitman’s opening act.
Born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. in Tampa, Fla. on Jan. 20, 1923, Whitman served in the US Navy during WWII before embarking on his music career. Discovered by Col. Tom Parker — who also discovered Presley — Whitman performed on the legendary Louisiana Hayride after releasing his first single in 1948. He began a run of hits in the early ’50s with ‘Love Song of the Waterfall’ and ‘Indian Love Call,’ then scored a No. 1 hit in the UK pop charts with ‘Rose Marie’ in 1955. The song dominated the top spot in England for 11 weeks, a record that would stand for 36 years.
The UK would prove Whitman’s career stronghold. He continued to score chart hits there throughout the ’50s and ’60s, while his profile in America was much lower until 1979, when he produced a television commercial to promote the release of a Greatest Hits collection titled ‘All My Best.’ The constant exposure from that spot finally made Whitman a household name in America, helped along by Johnny Carson’s many jokes on the subject. Whitman subsequently offered several other hits collections through direct TV marketing. According to Jacksonville.com he sold more than 120 million records worldwide.
In 2010 Whitman released ‘Twilight on the Trail,’ his first new studio collection in 26 years.
Slim Whitman was preceded in death by Alma “Jerry” Crist Whitman, his wife of 67 years. He is survived by his daughter, Sharon Beagle, and his son, Byron Whitman.