Born March 9, 1936, Mickey Gilley won the hearts of country fans in the 1970s before becoming a crossover success in the ’80s. He learned to play music at a young age alongside his cousin, influential rock ’n’ roll hitmaker Jerry Lee Lewis.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, years after Lewis’ own career had skyrocked, that Gilley began seriously pursuing music. He found a following in the Texas honky-tonk circuit, which led Gilley to partner with a Pasadena, Texas, club owner for a new endeavor. They opened Gilley’s Club, a honky-tonk bar that drew country fans and major artists like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, George Jones and many others.
In the mid-1970s, he gained the attention of the country music industry with his rendition of ”Room Full of Roses,” a track previously made famous by George Morgan. The success of that recording marked the beginning of a string of major hits for Gilley, including his cover of Bill Anderson‘s “City Lights,” as well as original tunes “Honky Tonk Memories” and “Here Comes the Hurt Again.”
The beginning of the 1980s marked a new chapter for Gilley, thanks in part to the massive success of the film Urban Cowboy. The movie, which was largely set at Gilley’s Club, included cameos from the man himself, Charlie Daniels, Johnny Lee and Bonnie Raitt. It sparked a new global interest in country music and put a new spotlight on Gilley, his music and his beloved honky-tonk. Sadly, the original Gilley’s Club closed in 1989 after questions over profits led Gilley and the club’s co-owner into a court battle, though a few other locations remain.
As the neo-traditionalist movement of the 1990s crept in, Gilley’s music career started to slow. He put down roots in Branson, Mo., and built his own theater, which found major success as country music-themed tourist attractions popped up in droves. Although he never found the same success on the country charts as he did in the ’70s and ’80s, the country star continued to record music through the 2000s.
Gilley died on May 7, 2022, at the age of 86, but his music and contributions to the country music industry will continue to live on. Let’s take a look back at 10 of Mickey Gilley’s most iconic and impactful songs.