Slim Whitman, Yodeling Country Star, Dies at 90

Slim Whitman 1956 - P 2013
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Slim Whitman 1956 - P 2013

With millions of records sold, the singer's high octave falsetto kept fans entertained for years.

Slim Whitman, one of country music's most unique song stylists of the past six decades, died of heart failure Wednesday at a Florida hospital, his family said. He was 90.

With millions of records sold, Whitman's keen ability at yodeling and his high octave falsetto kept fans entertained for years.

Born in Tampa, Florida, Whitman grew up enamored with the music of the "Singing Brakeman," Jimmie Rodgers. However, it wasn't until his stint in the United States Navy came to an end following the end of World War II that he decided to pursue music as a profession.

He started his career by playing in a band called the Variety Rhythm Boys – and was heard by future Elvis Presley manager Tom Parker, who offered to represent him. Parker was able to secure a recording deal with RCA Victor where he released his first single in 1948. However, it took Whitman until 1952 to really find his niche, peaking in the top ten with songs such as "Indian Love Call" and "Keep It A Secret." He charted regularly in the United States through 1955, with the hits becoming more sporadic after that.

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His version of "Rose Marie" became a hit in England in 1955, staying at No. 1 on the charts for 11 weeks.

It took him six years to land another chart single, peaking at No. 30 in 1961 with "The Bells That Broke My Heart."

Beginning in 1965 with "More Than Yesterday," the singer entered his most consistent phase of his career, placing 22 singles on the charts through 1974, with the biggest being "Something To Remember," which earned a No. 6 position in 1971.

Though he was well known in the United States, Whitman's star shone even brighter abroad, as he was one of the most successful country acts in the UK, earning several hits there when his career had slowed in America.

In 1979, Whitman became involved in what was a new concept -- the mail order TV album. His first, All My Best, was a success -- selling over 1.5 million units, and led to several other releases in the 1980s. He returned to the Billboard Top-20 in 1980 with When, and earned his first appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

Along the way, thanks to his television exposure, Whitman became a pop culture figure. Artists such as Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison each cited him as a favorite, and his TV-album ads were even spoofed on SCTV by Joe Flaherty. He was also name-checked in films such as Mars Attacks! (1996) and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007).

In Mars Attacks!, directed by Tim Burton, Whitman's yodel from "Indian Love Call" had the power to make the invading Martians' heads explode.

Whitman released his last album, Twilight On The Trail, in 2010. He passed away at Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park, FL on Wednesday morning surrounded by family. He is survived by a son and a daughter. His wife of 67 years, Alma, passed away in 2009. Arrangements are pending.