Rhinestone Cowboy Owens Dead at 76

Singer brought country to a wider audience with "Act Naturally," "Hee-Haw"

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Legendary country singer Buck Owens, known better as the Rhinestone Cowboy, died at his home in Bakersfield, California, on Saturday. He was 76.

The cause of death was not immediately known, but Owens' health had been waning after undergoing throat surgery in 1993, and suffering from pneumonia which resulted in hospitalization in 1997.

Born Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. just outside Sherman, Texas, the singer was a seminal figure in shaping the sound of country music, scoring more than twenty Number One records, including his first, 1963's "Act Naturally," later covered by the Beatles. Owens introduced the genre to a much broader audience as the host for the long-running TV show Hee-Haw, from 1969 to 1986.

After a string of hits, including "Together Again," "My Heart Skips a Beat" and "Love's Gonna Live Here," Owens abandoned the music scene for ten years before returning with another Number One song in 1988, "Streets of Bakersfield," with Dwight Yoakam. During his hiatus, Owens indulged in other business interests including a TV station in Bakersfield, and radio stations in both Bakersfield and Phoenix.

Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, and is survived by his three sons.