On June 15, 1969, Hee Haw premiered on CBS television. To commemorate the occasion, we take a look back at some of the residents of Kornfield Kounty who are no longer with us.
Hee Haw first aired as a summer replacement for the popular The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The countrified variety show earned respectable ratings, but was dropped after two years because it didn't reach the more lucrative young, urban demographic advertisers sought.
Still, it would survive another 20 years in syndication, becoming a mainstay of American television fondly recalled by many who grew up in the 1970s and '80s.
Many of the folks who helped make Hee Haw must-see TV are no longer with us, and the show's anniversary seems a fitting occasion to remember them.
Friends, writing partners, Canadians and co-creators of Hee Haw, Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth envisioned the show as Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In meets The Beverly Hillbillies. The hybrid proved wildly successful and would be Aylesworth's biggest hit, though he also had a hand in producing The Julie Andrews Hour and The Sonny and Cher Show and would be nominated for a host of Emmys. Aylesworth died last July at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., at the age of 81.
A Hee Haw cast member for 14 years, Junior Samples was born in Cumming, Ga. and was a stock car racer before he became an entertainer. His entry into showbiz came when he went on the radio to tell a tall tale about catching a big fish, a story that was made into a successful novelty record in 1966. His most famous recurring character on Hee Haw was a used car salesman who urged viewers to call BR-549 (from whence the '90s alt-country band got its name). Samples released a number of comedy albums and was twice nominated for the Country Music Assocation's Comedian of the Year. After a lifelong struggle with his weight – Samples would sometimes tip the scales at 400 lbs – he died of a heart attack in 1983 at 57.
Born in Bulls Gap, Tenn. in 1914, Archie Campbell helped start Knoxville's first country music television show, Country Playhouse, which ran on WROL-TV from 1952 to 1958. Signed to RCA records, he also had three Top 30 singles on the Country Chart during the 1960s before receiving the CMA Comedian of the Year award in 1969. Shortly thereafter he joined Hee Haw as a chief writer and performer. After Hee Haw's run, he hosted TNT's Yesteryear interview show and built one of the country's earliest lighted golf courses. He died in August 1987 at the age of 72. U.S. Highway 11E, which runs through Bulls Gap, is named in his honor.
Born Louis Marshall Jones in Niagra, Ky. in 1913, Jones gained his nickname for his grumpiness during early AM radio broadcasts when he worked at a radio station in Boston. Deciding to create a musical persona as Grandpa Jones around 1935, he began performing as a yodeler, banjo-picker and old-timey singer. After moving to Nashville, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry before joining Hee Haw as a regular cast member. In 1978 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Jones performed right up until the end, dying in 1998 a month after suffering a stroke during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. hailed from Sherman, Texas, where he was born in 1929. He began his career as a radio DJ before working as a truck driver and eventually settling in Bakersfield, Calif. He worked as a session musician at Capitol Records cutting tracks with Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Gene Vincent and others. His own career launched in 1959 when his song "Second Fiddle" hit No. 24 on the Billboard country charts. Named Most Promising Country and Western Singer by Billboard in 1960, Owens would justify the designation with 1963's "Act Naturally" – a No. 1 crossover hit that was later recorded by the Beatles (Ray Charles also covered Owens' tunes) and his band Buck Owens and the Buckaroos toured Japan – a rarity for a country band in the 1960s. Along with Roy Clark, Owens was the co-host of Hee Haw, but he finally left the show in 1986 as he felt its long run had overshadowed his musical legacy. In 1996 he opened Buck Owens Crystal Palace, a country music venue in Bakersfield, where he often performed before his death of a heart attack in 2006.
Jim Hager and John Hager
The Hager Twins were born in Chicago in 1941. As teenagers they performed on a local Saturday morning TV show before joining the Army. After being discharged, they moved to Los Angeles and began opening for acts like the Carpenters, John Denver and comedian Steve Martin. The duo was 'discovered' by Buck Owens while performing at Disneyland, and soon they were opening not only for Owens, but acts like Lefty Frizzell, Billy Jo Spears and Tex Ritter. The Hagers joined the cast of Hee Haw in 1969 and would stay until 1986. After the show, they posed for Playgirl magazine, played cloned detectives in The Bionic Woman, and continued performing in their adopted hometown of Nashville. Jim died in May 2008 at the age of 66. His brother Jon would follow less than a year later.
Born Sarah Colley in Centerville, Tenn. in October 1912, Pearl enjoyed a career that spanned more than 50 years. She developed her hillbilly comedic persona after meeting a mountain woman while performing in a community production in Baileyton, Ala. Nashville radio execs caught her act at a bankers' convention and gave her a shot at the Grand Ole Opry in 1940 – a venue she would play off and on for half a century. Before bringing the character to Hee Haw, Pearl appeared on ABC's Ozark Jubilee in the 1950s and recorded a Top 10 hit in 1966 with "Giddy Up Go Answer." She would be one of the most popular members of Hee Haw, staying with the show for the entirety of its run until 1991, and would later frequently appear on the TNN cable network. Her down-home, self-deprecating brand of humor has been cited as an influence on a later generation of country comedians including Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Foxworthy and Chonda Pierce. And not only country performers admired her act – Dean Martin and Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman) were also big fans. Colley died in March 1996 after complications from a stroke. She was 83.