Sheb Wooley – Co-Star and Drinking Buddy

15 Mar

Shelby F. Wooley (Sheb Wooley), actor, singer and musician: born Erick, Oklahoma 10 April 1921; married first Beverly Addison (one daughter), second Linda Dotson (one daughter); died Nashville, Tennessee 16 September 2003

Wooley was born on a farm in Erick, Oklahoma, in 1921. As an adolescent, he roped steers with his brothers and rode in rodeos; the injuries he thus sustained stopped him from active service during the Second World War and instead he worked in a defence plant. In 1950 he was given a role in the western film Rocky Mountain, which starred Errol Flynn. When an attractive girl mistook him for Flynn, he took advantage of the mistake, later admitting, “You can imagine I did some of my best acting that night, although I had a hell of a time with the Australian accent.”

With his riding abilities, Wooley was ideal for westerns. He appeared in Distant Drums (1951) with Gary Cooper and was featured in two films about General Custer, Little Big Horn (1951) and Bugles in the Afternoon (1952). In 1952 Wooley played Ben Miller, one of the brothers wanting to gun down Gary Cooper in Fred Zinnemann's epoch-making western High Noon. Other westerns included Johnny Guitar (1953), Man Without a Star (1955) and Rio Bravo (1959), with John Wayne and Dean Martin. He appeared in the film musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and the now legendary Giant (1956), with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.

In 1958 Wooley became a regular member of the cast of Rawhide, a western television series about a cattle drive, starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. Playing the role of Pete Nolan, Wooley remained with the series for several years, writing some of the later scripts. He recorded an album, Songs from the Days of Rawhide (1961) and, in a similar vein, Tales of How the West Was Won (1963).

In 1969 Wooley wrote the theme music for a new CBS TV country show, Hee Haw, and he performed many times on the programme, either as himself or Ben Colder. He was reunited with Clint Eastwood for a small role in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and also appeared in Starman (1984) with Jeff Bridges and Silverado (1985) with Kevin Kline and John Cleese. He starred alongside Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper in the basketball film Hoosiers (1987), while a film of his song, Purple People Eater, was made in 1988 with Chubby Checker and Little Richard.

 He left instructions that his funeral service should be held at “high noon”.

— Kathleen


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