American entertainer (b. Sept. 29, 1907, Tioga, Texas--d. Oct. 2, 1998, North Hollywood, Calif.), gained fame in motion pictures as the first American singing cowboy and used his earnings to amass a fortune in a business empire that comprised hotels, oil wells, broadcasting stations, a cattle ranch, a flying school, music-publishing companies, and the California Angels major league baseball team. Rivaled only by Roy Rogers (q.v.), he appeared in nearly 100 "horse operas," often accompanied by his horse, Champion, and recorded more than 600 songs--a great number of which he wrote or co-wrote and among which were his signature "Back in the Saddle Again"; his first gold record, "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine"; and the enduring hits "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Autry began singing when he was a young boy, and when he was 17 and working as a railway telegrapher in Oklahoma, he happened to meet Will Rogers in the office, sang for him, and was encouraged to pursue a singing career. He became Oklahoma's yodeling cowboy on a Tulsa radio station in 1928 and in the early 1930s performed on the weekly radio show "The National Barn Dance." From 1939 he appeared on the "Melody Ranch" radio show. Autry's first movie appearance was in 1934 in a small role in In Old Santa Fe, and he followed that with the serial Phantom Empire the same year. His first starring role came the next year in Tumbling Tumbleweeds. In 1937 Autry became the top-ranked western star, and he retained that spot through 1943; he was a top-10 box-office favourite in 1940-42. Following military service in World War II, he formed his own production company and resumed his filming career, and from 1950 to 1956 he starred on a weekly television show. Autry then began concentrating more on his business interests. In 1988 he opened the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles to house his collection of western art and memorabilia.
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