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Lest We Forget

Posted on September 16, 2003

Sheb Wooley

Performer of “Purple People Eater”


Singer, songwriter and actor Sheb Wooley died Tuesday, September 16, 2003 at Skyline Medical Center in Nashville. He was 82. Wooley had suffered from leukemia for the past five years.

Shelby F. Wooley was born April 10, 1921, near Erick, Okla. While a teenager, he worked as a rodeo rider and formed his own band. In the mid-1940s, he performed on radio stations WLAC and WSM in Nashville and subsequently had his own show on the Calumet Radio Network. He signed to Bullet Records in 1946, moving two years later to MGM Records where he remained until 1973. Wooley was a major musical influence on Roger Miller, who was related to him by marriage. Miller was only 11 when Wooley gave him his first fiddle.

Wooley began acting in movies in 1950, appearing first in Rocky Mountain with Errol Flynn. In 1952, he played killer Ben Miller in the Gary Cooper-Grace Kelly classic western, High Noon. Altogether, he acted in more than 60 films, among them Giant (1956) and Hoosiers (1986). Prominent in television acting as well, he played the role of Pete Nolan in the popular Rawhide series from 1959 to 1966.

As a recording artist, Wooley had his first success on the pop charts. His “Are You Satisfied?” barely made a dent in 1955, reaching only the No. 95 spot. But three years later, he unleashed a monster with the novelty tune, “The Purple People Eater.” It went No. 1 on the pop listings and stayed there for six weeks. “That’s My Pa,” another novelty effort in 1962, was his first country hit. It also reached No. 1.

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