Famous for his signature look that featured flashy, rhinestone-studded suits and a blonde pompadour, Porter Wagoner made such a historic career in country music. For over half a century, he was a fixture of the Grand Ole Opry.
Of course, who would ever forget The Porter Wagoner Show, which is syndicated in 100 markets, reaching 3.5 million viewers a week? Meanwhile, his songs that often tell dark tales of desperate people in stark terms dominated the country charts.
So, today, let’s celebrate the life and illustrious career of Porter Wagoner with some facts about the genre’s The Grand Showman.
1. He’s a native of West Plains, Missouri.
Born Porter Wayne Wagoner on August 12, 1927, the country icon grew up in hardscrabble surroundings, where he helped out on the family farm in the Ozark mountains.
2. He dreamt of being a Grand Ole Opry star as a kid.
Every Saturday night, Wagoner would listen on an old battery radio to the Grand Ole Opry. So, whenever he wasn’t occupied with farm chores, he would spend hours pretending that the trunk of a fallen oak tree was the Opry stage and that he was introducing country stars and singing their songs – a dream he would one day fulfill.
3. He worked hard for his first guitar.
Wagoner’s mother ordered his first guitar – a National worth $8 – out of a catalog of Montgomery Ward, which he had to pay by selling pelts of rabbits he trapped.
4. He used to perform on a radio station from a butcher shop.
During the Depression, Wagoner’s family was forced to auction their farm and moved to West Plains, where he worked at a local butcher, cutting meat. However, when his employer heard him play the guitar, he put him on the radio to sing advertisements. He performed on radio station KWPM-AM from the butcher shop.
5. He got married when he was sixteen.
Wagoner first married Velma Johnson. However, the two were annulled after less than a year. In 1946, he married Ruth Olive Williams but separated twenty years later. Wagoner and Ruth divorced in 1986. The country icon was blessed with three children: Richard, Denise, and Debra.
6. He was once admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
In the mid-1960s, Wagoner was doing 200 concerts a year in addition to his recording sessions and television shows. He was exhausted. So, his doctor admitted him to Parkview, a former Nashville psychiatric hospital, for eight to ten weeks. Wagoner’s friend, fellow country legend Johnny Cash later wrote the song called “Committed to Parkview” – which became one of Porter Wagoner songs.
7. He spent $350 to buy his first Nudie suit.
In 1953, Wagoner bought his first Nudie suit – that’s heavily studded with rhinestones and came in a peach color with wagon wheels on it – created by tailor Nudie Cohn. Wagoner eventually owned 50 of them, for which he paid as much as $12,000 per piece.
8. He had a string of hits with Dolly Parton.
Between 1968 and 1980, Wagoner and Parton often performed duets and charted 21 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart off their 13 studio albums. However, over the years, Parton began to become a bigger star, and that started to create tension between them that led to a very public legal mess and several tawdry tabloid headlines. Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” for Wagoner at the end of her partnership with him.
Truly, Porter Wagoner is one of a kind. It’s no surprise how his pure adherence to traditional forms is esteemed to this day.