Countrypolitan singer-guitarist Slim Whitman has died, just six months short of his 90th birthday. A Florida-born discovery of Colonel Tom Parker’s, Whitman signed with RCA Records in 1948. In 1950, he became a regular attraction on the legendary radio show Louisiana Hayride and, later, the Grand Ole Opry. A yodeling crooner who radiated stability and self-assurance, in contrast to the wild men and tragic figures of hardcore country, Whitman had his greatest success with country-flavored pop songs such as “Indian Love Call” (1951) and “Rose Marie.” The latter hit number one on the U.K. pop charts in 1955 and stayed there for 11 weeks, setting a record that would hold until 1991. His success in Britain stuck, and throughout the first three decades of the rock era, Whitman was much better known overseas than in his home country.
That changed in 1979, with a saturation TV ad campaign promoting a greatest-hits collection by an artist who, the commercials swore, had sold more records than Elvis and The Beatles. The commercial simultaneously revived the 55-year-old Whitman’s domestic career and turned him into a pop-culture punchline. All My Best sold four million copies; other TV-driven best-of collections followed in 1980 and 1982, and again in 1989 and 1991. Whitman also appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and The Midnight Special, and went back into the recording studio, notching up a few new, minor hits.
He was also parodied, most notably by Joe Flaherty on SCTV. His greatest exposure during the last 20 or so years came in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! in which the sound of Whitman’s yodeling voice turns out to be the key to defeating the alien invaders. A sweeter tribute came from Michael Jackson, who once listed Whitman among his favorite singers. Whitman’s last album was 2010's Twilight On The Trail.
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