Country music songwriter, recording artist and manger Merle Kilgore died Sunday night of congestive heart failure related to treatment for lung cancer. He was seventy.
Kilgore wrote several million-selling hits, including "More and More" for Webb Pierce, "Wolverton Mountain" for Claude King and "Johnny Reb" for Johnny Horton. He also co-wrote Johnny Cash's 1963 hit song "Ring of Fire" with Cash's then-future wife June Carter, and served as best man at the couple's wedding.
Born Wyatt Merle Kilgore in Chickasha, Oklahoma, in 1934, Kilgore grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, working as a DJ and singing on local radio stations. At the age of eighteen, he was signed to Imperial Records and wrote "More and More" -- a number Number One country hit for Pierce in 1954. Kilgore continued his recording success throughout the Sixties, by releasing several solo albums and scoring hits with songs like "Love Has Made You Beautiful" and "Dear Mama."
In 1962, Kilgore moved to Nashville, where he became a behind-the-scenes force, managing Hank Williams Jr.'s career for more than thirty years.
Kilgore was voted the Country Music Association's first-ever Manager of the Year in 1990, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1998. He also appeared in several movies, including Coal Miner's Daughter and Nashville.
Kilgore is survived by his wife, Judy, and five children: sons Steve and Duane Kilgore and daughters Pam Compton, Kim Pomeroy and Shane McBee.