Almost all movie fans know or are familiar with Actress Elizabeth Taylor. She is one of the most popular actresses and stars of some Hollywood’s most-revered classic films. A two-time Oscar winner, she also inspired the Statler Brothers’ second No. 1 single with a movie she had starred in 28 years earlier.
The Statlers are enthusiastic fans of the cinema, a fact that rings true in their songs “The Movies” and “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott.” When they’re still touring, the boys would often unwind from performances by watching old films right there on their tour bus. On one occasion, they selected the 1956 picture “Giant,” starring Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor. Group member Jimmy Fortune latched on to the actress’ first name and, inspired by the beauty of it, wrote a song to match. “Elizabeth” reached the No. 1 plateau on Billboard’s country chart on March 17, 1984.
Jimmy Fortune was the newest member of the group. He joined after ill health forced Lew DeWitt off the road. DeWitt suffered from Crohn’s disease. It’s a rare condition aggravated in his case by the stress of constant touring. He took time off the road in 1982, while Fortune replaced him temporarily. DeWitt rejoined the group at the Music City News Awards on June 7th, but it proved to be his final appearance with the Statlers as he announced his retirement that night. Thereafter, Jimmy was named as his permanent replacement. Group member Don Reid said that they were looking for someone who would fit in with the group personally as well as professionally. Also to enhance the group’s sound and not to change it. Reid felt confident that in Jimmy Fortune, they had found the right person to take Lew’s place. The transition turned out very smooth right from the start.
Because of the change in the group’s lineup, the Statler Brothers found themselves participating in a number of press conferences to explain the situation to reporters. DeWitt told Donna Delaney of “Country Song Roundup” magazine how badly he felt for the guys to have to go through all that, but there wasn’t anything he could do. His doctor had told him to either “quit, or he would be in a lot of trouble.” In the end, the Crohn’s disease proved fatal, as it claimed Lew’s life during his sleep on August 15, 1990, at his home in Waynesboro, Virginia. He was just 52 years old. DeWitt had written the Statlers’ first hit “Flowers On The Wall” back in 1965.
Without that first big one, would they have eventually found stardom anyway? We’ll never know, but I think the rest of the guys realize just how great their debt of gratitude is to Lew DeWitt.
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