Country music legend Roy Clark has passed away due to complications from pneumonia, CNN reports. The singer was 85 years old.
Born in Virginia, Clark showed an early affinity for music, playing multiple instruments, including banjo, mandolin and guitar while a teenager. His father, seeing the talent in his son, exposed him to all different styles of music such as the symphony, square dance bands and the military.
"I was subjected to different kinds of music before I ever played," Clark once said. "Dad said, 'Never turn your ear off to music until your heart hears it – because then you might hear something you like.'"
Clark started performing on TV at the age of 15, playing with his father's band. His talent was quickly noticed, and soon he was touring with artists like Hank Williams and Grandpa Jones, dropping out of school when he could no longer keep up with the demands.
"Music was my salvation, the thing I loved most and did best," Clark said. "Whatever was fun, I'd go do that."
Clark went on to have wide commercial success. He won a banjo competition in 1950, which led to an invitation to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Proficient in not only country, but rock, jazz and pop, Clark later joined Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, and even performed with Elvis Presley.
But it wasn't until 1960, when Clark performed with Wanda Jackson, that his career really took off. After opening for Jackson in Las Vegas, he launched his own headlining tour, staying on the road for 345 consecutive nights, and earning him his own show in Vegas.
In 1962, Clark released his debut album, The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark. That album spawned his first hit, "The Tips of My Fingers," which included an orchestra and strings section.
"We didn't call it crossover then but I guess that's what it was," Clark later said. "We didn't aim for that, because if you aim for both sides you miss them both. But we just wanted to be believable."
In 1963, Clark appeared on both The Tonight Show and American Bandstand, showing off not only his musical skills, but his comedic side as well.
"Humor is a blessing to me," said Clark. "My earliest recollections are of looking at something and seeing the lighter side. But it's always spontaneous. I couldn't write a comedy skit for someone else."
Clark went on to release more than 50 albums, and toured for the next several decades, which remained the favorite part of his career.
"Soon as you hit the edge of the stage and see people smiling and know they’re there to hear you, it’s time to have fun," Clark said. "I keep a band of great young people around me, and we’re not musically restrained. It’s not about ‘let’s do it correct’ but ‘let’s do it right.’”
Clark was also a regular in the comedy variety show, Hee Haw. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry. Clark is survived by his wife of 61 years, Barbara, and four children. Funeral services are pending.
Photo Credit: Getty images/Anna Webber