Roy Rogers, the singing "King of the Cowboys" whose straight-shooting exploits in movies and television made him a hero to generations of young fans and No. 1 at the box office, died Monday. He was 86.
His death at his home in Apple Valley was announced in a statement by his spokeswoman, Jane Hansen. He suffered from congestive heart failure, the statement said.Rogers was a Depression-era truck driver and peach picker, then a successful country singer with the Sons of the Pioneersbefore he landed a $75 a week job in 1937 as singing cowboy at Hollywood's Republic Studio.
Rogers, armed with a guitar, six-shooters and charm, rose in salary and popularity to "King of the Cowboys." For 12 years - 1943 to 1954 - he was No. 1 Western star at the box office in a magazine poll of theater operators.
Loaded with fights, always fair, and chases that corralled the bad guys, his 87 films, with names like "Under Western Stars" and "Song of Arizona," were especially popular in small towns. His television series, which ran from 1951 to 1957, and thereafter in reruns, had similar appeal.
Rogers preferred to play down violence, shooting the gun out of the villain's hand, rather than hurting the villain himself. He criticized other, more violent Westerns.
"When I was a boy, our parents taught us that hitting below the belt was a cowardly thing," he once said. "I don't believe this kind of thing is `entertainment' no matter how you look at it."
In many films and in the television series, he co-starred with Dale Evans, whom he married in 1947. She was the cowriter of "Happy Trails to You," which became their theme song. Featured were his famous palomino horse, Trigger, his dog, Bullet, and her horse, Buttermilk. His sidekick in films was bewhiskered Gabby Hayes, in television Pat Brady.
Rogers' rodeo grossed $425,000 on a tour of state fairs, and he estimated it cost $30,000 in 1960 just to answer his fan mail.
"I'm an introvert at heart," Rogers once said. "And show business - even though I've loved it so much - has always been hard for me."
It made him a millionaire, though. His investments included real estate, a chain of restaurants bearing his name and a TV production company.
"He came from nothing. He earned everything he ever had and remained a modest, simple man," film critic Leonard Maltin said.
"He portrayed himself as a good, honest man and that's what he was."
In June 1967, he and Miss Evans opened an 18,000-square-foot museum in Victorville, near their Apple Valley home some 90 miles east of Los Angeles. On display are a variety of Rogers memorabilia - including Trigger, stuffed and mounted in a rearing posture after his death in 1965.
Rogers is survived by Miss Evans; his son by his first marriage, Roy Rogers Jr.; daughter by his first marriage, Linda Lou Johnson; adopted daughter by his first marriage, Cheryl Barnett; adopted daughter of Rogers and Miss Evans, Dodie Sailors; 15 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.