Country singer Porter Wagoner dies at 80


NASHVILLE - U.S. country singer Porter Wagoner, lanky Grand Ole Opry star whose flashy Nudie rhinestone suits dazzled fans when he sang with rising new performer Dolly Parton in the '60s, died on Sunday from lung cancer, said his publicity agent, Darlene Bieber. He was 80.

Bieber said the singer died in an Alive Hospice facility in Nashville. He had been hospitalized for several days.

Wagoner, an Opry star since 1957 and a Grammy winner, was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and won three Country Music Association awards for songs with Parton in the Vocal Duo and Vocal Group categories.

The two recorded 14 Top 10 hits including "Last Thing on My Mind" and "Please Don't Stop Loving Me."

Wagoner's solo hits included "Company's Comin" and the "Green Green Grass of Home" as well as "Carroll County Accident."

A $3 million lawsuit filed by Wagoner claiming Parton owed him money after the duo broke up in 1974 was settled out of court.

Wagoner, who sported a pompadour until he changed his hairstyle to curls, annoyed some Opry performers when he invited James Brown to perform on a stage not regularly graced by black performers.

At the time, Wagoner said he invited Brown to add to the Opry's reputation and "I hope none of the opposition by some members was racial but people have a problem accepting anything that's new."

He was also criticized by some for producing an album by soul artist Joe Simon to which he replied that "that's strange because there is such a similarity between black music and country music."

Active to the last, Wagoner released "Wagonmaster" produced by fellow country music performer Marty Stuart just last June.

Born in Howell County, Mo., Wagoner grew up on a farm in hardscrabble surroundings, listening on an old battery radio to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night.

A high school dropout after his father's health failed, Wagoner began his career on a radio show in Springfield, Missouri, where he met Nudie Cohen, a Brooklyn-born tailor who advised him to don his trademark suits on stage. Cohen went on to design suits for Elvis Presley.

Wagoner sang on Red Foley's "Ozark Jubilee" in Springfield from 1953-57 when he joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Later he signed with RCA to produce albums.