Gene Autry, the white-hatted Hollywood singing cowboy and American icon who, among other things, recorded 635 albums and made ninety-five films, died today in his Southern California home. Autry had just turned ninety-one on September 29th.
Born in Tioga, Texas, in 1907 and raised in Oklahoma, Autry began his performing career modestly as a member of the travelling Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show. Before long though, he was cutting Jimmie Rodgers covers in New York and well on his way to becoming one of the most famous singers in America during the Depression and the Forties. Among his many, many recordings were "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
His film career proved just as successful, even with such fare as The Phantom Empire, a science-fiction cowboy serial. He staked his claim on the small screen as well with the introduction of television into American homes, starring in his own series from 1950 to 1956.
Autry, who appeared [as an illustration] on the cover of Rolling Stone on October 23, 1973, retired from performing in 1956, but continued to amass a fortune from his four radio stations and numerous other properties and business ventures, including the Gene Autry Hotel in Palm Springs and the California Angels baseball team, which he had owned since the team's creation in 1961 (Part owners the Walt Disney Co. are set to acquire Autry's share of their team, as per an agreement penned in 1995). That same year, Forbes reported Autry's net worth at $320 million.
Autry was Hollywood's first singing cowboy, but he's the second to ride off into the final sunset this year: Roy Rogers, who had followed in Autry's happy trails all through the heyday of the film western, passed away in July of this year.