- - Monday, January 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Little Jimmy Dickens was a Grand Ole Opry superstar for more than 60 years, but it was Brad Paisley who supersized the career of the 4-foot-11-inch tall star who died Jan. 2 at age 95.

Mr. Paisley would likely disagree with that sentiment. Fair enough. The much-loved and lauded Mr. Dickens, who was inducted into the Opry in 1948 by the “King of Country Music” Roy Acuff, became a true country superstar who recorded more than 200 songs and routinely played more than 300 shows a year, long before Mr. Paisley’s 1972 birth. Industry officials gave him honors — including a 1983 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame — and country stars celebrated him in song such as on the 1964 tribute album ‘George Jones Sings Like the Dickens!’

But it was Mr. Dickens personal life, not his professional recognition, which seemingly won Mr. Paisley’s respect.

“Why was he my hero? Jimmy made more out of his time on earth than anyone I’ve ever known; an incredible life in every measurable way,” Mr. Paisley said in a written statement following the announcement of Mr. Dickens‘ death. “Longevity? Yes, practically unheard of. Faith? Totally and wholeheartedly. Humor? There was no one funnier, or with a better sense of it. A true entertainer? The best I’ve ever seen. Charm? Unmatched. Love? This was a big one. I think he loved everyone he ever met, and if not, he never let it be known. More importantly, I think everyone who ever met him loved him instantly and forever. Romance? He and [his wife] Mona had the most romantic story I’ve ever heard. Check it out sometime. Friendship? Well I can honestly say he was the best friend any human being could ask for. Bar none.”

And Mr. Paisley returned that love and friendship.

It’s a cruel truth that today’s superstars are often forgotten tomorrow. We could list myriad examples, but that just seems unnecessarily callous.

The point is that just as Brad Paisley guitar slinger morphed into Brad Paisley superstar — sometime around the release of his 2003 “Mud on the Tires” album — he used his celebrity to underscore why his growing legion of fans should not overlook his fellow West Virginian.

He did it subtly about 10 years ago when he played what’s now Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia. As cowboy hat wearing fans wicking sweat from their faces jubilantly sang along to ‘“Whiskey Lullaby,” “Celebrity” and other now-hit songs, snippets of videos featuring Mr. Dickens and other Grand Ole Opry stars flashed on a giant screen behind Mr. Paisley and his band.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but a wave of nostalgia — akin to the feeling of camaraderie that blankets crowds when they hear “The Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events — seemed to envelope the crowd as the Opry legend spoke from the screen.

And then, there he was in person, standing on the stage not far from Mr. Paisley, the rhinestones on his suit catching the gleam of the spotlights.

It’s difficult to remember what song Mr. Paisley and Mr. Dickens performed that night. Indelibly etched is the look of pure joy on Mr. Paisley’s face as the crowd’s roar welcomed the man he calls “my hero.”

Many country musicians and fans loved and admired Mr. Dickens. You’ve likely read many of their statements since the announcement of Mr. Dickens‘ death. And you’ll hear many more during Wednesday’s visitation at Woodlawn Rosech Patton in Nashville and Thursday’s Celebration of Life Service fittingly planned to be held at the Grand Ole Opry House. Watch for crowds, tributes and tears.

But we bet Mr. Dickens is smiling down from Hillbilly Heaven, urging fans to pay special attention to Mr. Paisley’s advice on how best to remember him.

“Do not mourn Little Jim. Celebrate him. Relive and share the memories. Aspire to be like him. And above all, laugh at the punch lines, the craziness, and the way he so gracefully made this planet a funnier, better, richer place while he was alive. And in doing so, he will continue to for years to come.”

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