CHRIS LEDOUX: 1948-2005

The rugged country rodeo champ loses his battle with cancer.

They didn't come much tougher than Chris LeDoux, a former bareback bronc riding champ who forged an outstanding career in country music. But the soft-spoken singer ultimately lost his battle against bile duct cancer, and died March 9 at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. Chris, 56, was with family and friends at his death. Chris earned the title World Champion Bareback Rider from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1976, but had also set his sights on a music career. He started out by recording cassettes and selling them at rodeo events, recording 22 albums on his own. Chris' cult following turned into a national buzz in 1989 when Garth Brooks had a hit with his debut single, "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)," which included the line A wornout tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/Seem to be the only friends I've left at all. Chris made his major-label debut in 1992 and produced hits like the Top 10 "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy" (with backing vocals by Garth) and "Cadillac Ranch." Chris' high-voltage shows served as a model for country music's crowd-pleasing artists, including his pal Garth. Diagnosed with a rare liver disease in 2000, Chris underwent a liver transplant. A few months later he told Country Weekly, "There are very few of us who are blessed to do what we love, and I've been blessed at least three times: my rodeo career, the music and my family." Chris began touring again, and in 2003 he released his Horsepower CD and celebrated career sales of more than five million albums. In late 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct and began radiation treatment. In early March, he checked into the Wyoming Medical Center following complications from the treatments. Both the country music and rodeo worlds mourned Chris' passing. "He was a quiet country cowboy," noted Mark Chesnutt, who played shows with him in the '90s. "On the flipside, as an entertainer, Chris LeDoux put on one of the best shows I've ever seen in my lifetime- whether it be country or a rock 'n' roll show. LeDoux was the show. . . . He will be missed." Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association commissioner Troy Ellerman added, "Chris was a fine man with a big heart." Chris is survived by his wife, Peggy, and their five children. A private funeral service was held March 14 at the family ranch in Kaycee, Wyo. The family requested all donations be made to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, 101 ProRodeo Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80919 or at prorodeo.org.

-BOB PAXMAN

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