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Jimmie Rodgers Dies at 87

He had tested positive for Covid-19, according to his daughter Michele Rodgers.

Jimmie Rodgers Dies at 87

Singer Jimmie Rodgers, who burst on the national scene in 1957 with the No. 1 hit "Honeycomb," and scored multiple hits in the decade that followed, died Jan. 18 from kidney disease in Palm Desert, CA. He was 87 and had also tested positive for Covid-19, according to his daughter Michele Rodgers.

With a style that combined a unique blend of folk, country and pop in an era of rock and roll, Rodgers scored dozens of hits on the pop, country, R&B, and Easy Listening charts. Among the bigger ones were "Oh Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Secretly," "Bimbombey," "Are You Really Mine," "It's Over," and "Child of Clay" on the Roulette, Dot and A&M labels. He also released dozens of albums and continued to chart into the 1970's. In the UK, he scored a No. 5 hit with "English Country Garden" in 1962.

James Frederick Rodgers was born Sept. 18, 1933 in Camas, WA. His mother was a piano teacher and his father worked in a paper mill. He sang in school and church and taught himself guitar. He briefly attended Clark College in Washington state, but left to join to join the Air Force during the Korean War.

Upon his return from Korea, he was stationed in Nashville, and started singing around the area for $10. a night. In 1957, he got a chance to appear on the popular "Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts" show and landed an audition for Roulette Records. He sang the Bob Merrill song "Honeycomb" that he had learned off of a Georgie Shaw record, and they signed him immediately. His biggest hits were for that company, but Roulette was notorious for cheating its artists on royalties, which led to years of disputes.

At the height of his success, he was in big demand by all of the TV variety shows, appearing on "Shower of Stars" with Jack Benny, "The Big Record" with Patti Page, the "Ed Sullivan show," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," and numerous others, and was given his own show on NBC in 1959. He also played all of the top nightclubs and theaters.

Rodgers had dramatic roles in the films "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come" and "Back Door to Hell," in which he was billed over Jack Nicholson. He also sang the title song for Paul Newman's "The Long Hot Summer."

His career came to a halt in 1967, when he was driving home from an engagement and was pulled over by a man who later turned out to be an off-duty policeman. He was beaten severely on the head, suffering traumatic injuries, including a fractured skull. Two other policemen soon arrived, picked him up and left him in his car unconscious, but fortunately his conductor had been following and found him. He underwent three brain surgeries and needed a metal plate put into his head. The police officer later claimed that Rodgers had been drunk, but that was disputed in court and he filed an $11 million suit against the City of Los Angeles. The Fire and Police Protective League countersued for slander and the case continued to be fought for several years. In 1973, Rodgers finally agreed to accept a $200,000. settlement from the LAPD. It was later widely believed that Roulette Records, which was tied to organized crime, had ordered the attack in retaliation for his leaving the label and for fighting for his royalties.

Rodgers had been considered for a featured role the 1968 film "Finian's Rainbow," which was lost because of his injuries. When he eventually recovered enough to return to performing, it was discovered that he had developed spasmodic dysphonia, which causes spasms in the muscles of the voice box, and he would also have occasional seizures while on stage, traced back to his attack.

While recovering, his voice continued to be heard on the TV jingles for Post's Honeycomb cereal and for Franco-American's SpaghettiOs, sung to the tune of "Oh Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again" (Oh Oh SpaghettiOs).

He continued performing, nevertheless, and had another network show of his own in the summer of 1969 on ABC-TV. He also performed and produced shows at his own theater in Branson, MO for three years and published his autobiography, "Dancing on the Moon," in 2010.

Two early marriages ended in divorce, but he married Mary Louise Biggerstaff in 1978, who survives him. In addition to his daughter Michele, he is also survived by a son Michael from his first marriage, two sons Casey and Logan from his second marriage, and a daughter Katrine Rodgers from his third marriage. He also leaves five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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