Porter Wagoner–television host, singer, songwriter, and stoic dispenser of the cold, hard facts of life–died on Sunday from complications due to lung cancer after more than 50 years in Nashville, in a career that ranged from a honky tonk youth to an old age celebrated by country-infatuated rockers like Jack Whtie and Neko Case.
As the star of The Porter Wagoner Show for over two decades starting in 1960, Wagoner was both a hitmaker in his own right and a groomer of younger singers, most notably Dolly Parton, whom he brought onto the show in 1967 and recorded over a dozen hit duets during the next seven years. You can get a sense of the image Wagoner projected both live and on record not only by how many times his CMT obituary repeats the words “solemn” and serious,” but also how often they mention him “clowning” on stage. This purse-lipped seriousness and hammy showmanship–dry fatalism cut with sly wit–is embodied by the drama and ridiculousness of one of my favorite album covers, from Wagoner’s 1967 The Cold Hard Facts Of Life. (You can see a larger version here.) Wagoner was 80.