OPRY LOSES TWO BELOVED STARS

Skeeter Davis

During last June's fan fair week, Skeeter Davis bravely took the stage at Nashville's Golden Voice Awards. Though weak from cancer, the Grand Ole Opry star was determined to offer an emotional thank-you to her fans for their ongoing support.

Skeeter's 15-year battle with the disease would last only a few more months. The Opry legend, best known for her smash hit "The End of the World," died Sept. 19 in Nashville, at the age of 72.

Born Mary Frances Penick, Dec. 30, 1931, in Dry Ridge, Ky., she was given the nickname "Skeeter" by her grandfather. In high school, Skeeter formed a duo with Betty Jack Davis, calling themselves the Davis Sisters (though they were not related).

The girls hit No. 1 in 1953 with "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know." But tragedy struck that year when Betty Jack died in a car accident that also injured Skeeter.

Skeeter pressed on, releasing her solo debut, "Lost to a Geisha Girl," in 1958 and joining the Opry in 1959. She had hits including "Set Him Free," and "Optimistic," but saw her greatest success in 1962 with the crossover smash "The End of the World."

Skeeter weathered a stormy marriage to radio personality Ralph Emery, her second husband, whom she divorced in 1964. Her first marriage to a high school beau, and her third to musician Joey Spampinato, ended in divorces as well.

She also became the center of controversy in 1973, when the Opry suspended her for a year for publicly criticizing Nashville police officers who had arrested some "Jesus people" at a local mall. But once she returned, Skeeter became one of the Opry's most enduring stars.

Said her good friend, Opry star Jeannie Seely, "Skeeter was absolutely loved all over the world."

Roy Drusky

Smooth-voiced crooners have always been a part of country music, and one of the smoothest singers around was Roy Drusky. The man behind such hits as "Anymore," "Second Hand Rose" and the No. 1 "Yes, Mr. Peters" died at 74 after a long battle with emphysema, Sept. 23 in a nursing home outside of Nashville.

Born June 22, 1930, in Atlanta, Roy didn't get the performing bug until his adult years. During a stint in the Navy, he bought a guitar and taught himself to play so he could entertain his fellow enlisted men. But after his discharge, Roy pursued veterinary medicine in college and even considered a pro baseball career.

Music won out after Roy formed a singing group called the Southern Ranch Boys in 1951. The ensemble landed a regular spot on a Georgia radio station, and that led to Roy's first recording deal.

He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1958, before he ever had a hit record. But in 1960 - at age 30 - two of Roy's original tunes, "Another" and "Anymore," hit the Top 5. His only No. 1 came in 1965 with "Yes, Mr. Peters," a cheating-song duet with Priscilla Mitchell, Jerry Reed's wife at the time.

The handsome singer also appeared in three county music-themed movies: White Lightning Express, Forty Acre Feud and Golden Guitar.

Roy became known as the "Perry Como of Country Music," but his mellow singing style eventually fell victim to changing tastes. His recording career essentially ended in 1977, after 41 chart hits. He turned to writing and producing, then began a new sideline as a country-gospel singer in the early '90s.

- Bob Paxman

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