GAC extends condolences to the family, friends and fans of Slim Whitman, the high-pitched yodeler who sold millions of records through TV ads in the 1980s and 1990s. He died of heart failure on Wednesday, June 19, at Orange Park Medical Center in Florida, reports The Tennessean. He was 90.
While Slim’s tenor falsetto and ebony-colored mustache and sideburns became his trademarks thanks to the TV commercials that sold his records, he was a musical influence on early rock and known in the British Isles for popularizing country music there. He also encouraged Elvis Presley when he was the headliner on the bill and Elvis was making his professional debut.
Slim recorded more than 65 albums and sold millions of records, including 4 million copes of All My Best, which was marketed on TV. His career began in the 1940s and in the 1980s, his popularity reached its height. The Tennessean described Slim as an “ordinary guy singing romantic ballads.”
“All of a sudden, here comes a guy in a black and white suit, with a mustache and a receding hairline, playing a guitar and singing ‘Rose Marie,’” he told The Associated Press in 1991. “They hadn’t seen that.”
“That TV ad is the reason I’m still here,” Slim said. “It buys fuel for the boat. I almost didn’t do them. I had seen those kinds of commercials and didn’t like them. But it was one of the smartest things I ever did.”
He yodeled throughout his career and had a three-octave singing range. According to him, yodeling required rehearsal. “It’s like a prize fighter,” he once said. “He knows he has a fight coming up, so he gets in the gym and trains. So when I have a show coming up, I practice yodeling.”
Born Ottis Dewey Whitman Jr. in Tampa on January 23, 1923, Slim held an assortment of jobs at places such as a meatpacking plant, a shipyard and as a postman. His radio career began in Tampa and he signed with RCA Records in 1949 with the help of Col. Tom Parker, who later became Elvis Presley’s longtime manager. It was Tom who gave Slim his nickname.
In 1952, Slim had his first hit record, “Love Song of the Waterfall,” which became part of the soundtrack of Close Encounters of the Third Kind 25 years later. His song “Indian Love Call” was used in the 1996 film Mars Attacks!. In the film, his yodel causes the Martians’ heads to explode.
He went on to become a star on the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show. His version of “Rose Marie” became a huge hit in England in 1955, staying at No. 1 on the charts for 11 weeks. Other Slim hits include “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” ”Red River Valley,” ”Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.”
“The material I did was lasting material,” he said in 1991. “A lot of people thought I wasn’t doing anything, but I was in the studio. The biggest factor is the material you choose. You hunt, you cut.”
Slim told the AP in 1991 that he wanted to be remembered as a ‘nice guy.’ “I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way,” he said. “I’d like my son to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.”
Slim is survived by his daughter, Sharon Beagle, and his son, Byron Whitman.