Country entertainer Ferlin Husky dies at age 85

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NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Ferlin Husky, a pioneering country music entertainer in the 1950s and early ‘60s known for hits like “Wings of a Dove” and “Gone,” died Thursday. He was 85.

The 2010 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee died at his home, hall spokeswoman Tina Wright said. He had a history of heart problems and related ailments.

With his resonant voice and good looks, Husky was one of the most versatile entertainers to emerge from country music. He was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor, and even a comedian whose impersonations ranged from Bing Crosby to Johnny Cash.

He was one of the first country musicians to bring the genre to television and helped spread its popularity in booming post-World War II California, an important step in country’s quest for a national audience.

He said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that he was buoyed by his Hall of Fame induction because he worried he’d been forgotten as his health failed over the years.

“The main thing I’m proud of, this is for my family and for the many people who want to see me go in there before I die,” he said. “It’s a great honor.”

Friends seemed more indignant about Husky’s long wait than he did. Tracy Pitcox, president of Heart of Texas Records, remembers telling Husky he deserved to be in the hall of fame a few years before his induction.

“He said, ‘It would be nice, but it isn’t going to impress Jesus,’” Pitcox remembered Thursday. “I just thought, ‘Wow, what a nice thing to say.’”

Husky was one of the first country artists to have his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and sold more than 20 million records, mostly in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, according to his web site. He won many of his awards long before such gala shows were televised and meant so much to careers.

He was born in 1925 near Flat River, Mo. After five years in the Merchant Marine during World War II, he began his singing career in honky tonks and nightclubs around St. Louis and later in the Bakersfield, Calif., area.

“I’d walk into a bar and if they didn’t have any music there I’d ask the bartender if I could play. Then I’d pass the hat around,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1957.

He recalled netting 50 or 75 cents each time.

He recorded some songs early in his career under the name Terry Preston, and in some early records he spelled his last name Huskey.

He was signed to Capitol records in the early 1950s and had his first big success when he teamed with 2011 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Jean Shepard on “Dear John Letter,” which ranked No. 4 on Billboard’s list of top country songs of 1953.

Shepard said Thursday that was the start of a friendship that lasted nearly 60 years. She talked with Husky about a week ago before his health took a turn for the worse.

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