Slim Whitman, one of country music’s most unusual artists, died today in Orange Park, Florida, of heart failure, Billboard reports. He was 90. Whitman, born Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr., and his high-flying falsetto and yodeling prowess intrigued fans for decades, helping him to sell millions of records in his career.
Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida, but didn’t pursue music professionally until he returned from serving in the Navy during World War II. He kicked off his career with the Variety Rhythm Boys, and was heard by future Elvis Presley manager Tom Parker. With the help of Parker, Whitman landed a record deal with RCA Victor and released his first single in 1948. The singer found his first big success in 1952, landing Top 10 hits with songs like “Indian Love Call” and “Keep It a Secret.”
Whitman would score a big hit in the U.K. with his recording of “Rose Marie,” taking the top spot on the charts for 11 weeks. But it would be six years until he’d have another charting single, with “The Bells That Broke My Heart” peaking at Number 30 in 1961. His career hit a new stride in 1965 with “More than Yesterday,” and Whitman would land 22 singles on the charts through 1974. His track “Something to Remember” rose to Number Six on the charts in 1971.
In 1979, Whitman jumped on a then-new concept with the mail-order TV album. His compilation All My Best, his first mail-order TV album, sold more than 1.5 million copies. Whitman charted another hit in 1980 with “When,” and made his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
His influence continued to resonate decades later, with Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and George Harrison calling him a favorite. Films like 1996’s Mars Attacks! and 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story have also included Whitman references.
Whitman released his latest album, Twilight on the Trail, in 2010. He is survived by a son and daughter; Alma, his wife of 67 years, died in 2009. Arrangements for Whitman are still pending.