Country superstar Porter Wagoner dies

Porter Wagoner, who was known for a string of country hits in the '60s and perennial appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in his trademark rhinestone suits, has died at the age of 80.

Porter Wagoner — who was known for a string of country hits in the '60s, perennial appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in his trademark rhinestone suits and for launching the career of Dolly Parton — has died at the age of 80.

Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner sings with Dolly Parton during his induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame ceremony in Nashville, Tenn., on May 4, 2003. ((John Russell/Associated Press))

Like many older performers, his star had faded in recent years. But his death from lung cancer Sunday, at 80, came only after a remarkable late-career revival that won him a new generation of fans.

The Missouri-born Wagoner signed with RCA Records in 1955 and joined the Opry in 1957, "the greatest place in the world to have a career in country music," he said in 1997. His showmanship, suits and pompadoured hair made him famous.

He had his own syndicated TV show, The Porter Wagoner Show, for 21 years, beginning in 1960. It was one of the first syndicated shows to come out of Nashville and set a pattern for many others.

"Some shows are mechanical, but ours was not polished and slick," he said in 1982.

Among his hits, many of which he wrote or co-wrote, were Carroll County Accident, A Satisfied Mind, Company's Comin', Skid Row Joe, Misery Loves Company and Green Green Grass of Home.

Opening act for White Stripes

The songs often told stories of tragedy or despair. In Carroll County Accident, a married man having an affair is killed in a car crash; Skid Row Joe deals with a once-famous singer who's lost everything.

In 2002, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In May, after years without a recording contract, he signed with ANTI- records, an eclectic Los Angeles label best known for alt-rock acts like Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Neko Case.

Wagoner's final album, Wagonmaster, was released in June and earned him some of the best reviews of his career. Over the summer, he was the opening act for the influential rock duo White Stripes at a sold-out show at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"The young people I met backstage, some of them were 20 years old. They wanted to get my autograph and tell me they really liked me," Porter said with tears in his eyes the day after the New York show."If only they knew how that made me feel— like a new breath of fresh air."

Boosted Dolly Parton's career

To many music fans, Wagoner was best known as the man who boosted Parton's career in the early 1970s. She wrote the pop standard I Will Always Love You in 1973 after Wagoner suggested she shift from story songs to focus on love songs.

The two quit singing duets in 1974 and she went on to wide stardom with pop hits and movies such as 9 to 5, whose theme song was also a hit for her.

Wagoner sued her for $3 million in assets, but they settled out of court in 1980. He said later they were always friendly, "but it's a fact that when you're involved with attorneys and companies that have them on retainer, it makes a different story."

At a charity roast for Wagoner in 1995, she explained the breakup this way: "We split over creative differences. I was creative, and Porter was different."