Singer-songwriter and former rodeo champion Chris LeDoux died Wednesday (March 9) in Casper, Wyo., following a lengthy battle with liver ailments. He was 56.
LeDoux was admitted to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper earlier this week after experiencing complications from his cancer. He and his family lived on a ranch near Kaycee, Wyo.
LeDoux underwent a liver transplant in October 2000 after being diagnosed with a rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis. In November 2004, LeDoux confirmed he had been diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a slow-growing cancer of the bile duct.
Commenting on LeDoux’s death, Capitol Records Nashville president and CEO Mike Dungan noted, “In a world of egos and soundalikes, he was a unique artist and a wonderful man.”
LeDoux had already recorded and marketed 22 albums on his own Lucky Man Music label before signing to Capitol Records in 1992. In large part, the major label deal was due to the support of another Capitol artist — longtime fan Garth Brooks — who had immortalized LeDoux in his 1989 debut single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” Through the years, Brooks would openly acknowledge that his concerts were in many ways inspired by LeDoux’s high-voltage live shows.
Born Oct. 2, 1948, in Biloxi, Miss., Chris LeDoux was raised in Austin, Texas. His father was an Air Force pilot who moved the family throughout the U.S. While spending time in Texas and Wyoming, LeDoux gained an interest in music and the rodeo. In 1976, he earned the title of world champion bareback rider from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
LeDoux began dabbling at songwriting while in high school and started recording and releasing his own albums in 1973. With titles such as Old Cowboy Heroes, Rodeo Songs and Wild and Wooly, LeDoux’s music was aimed directly at the rodeo and cowboy subculture. Selling the tapes at rodeos, LeDoux built a devoted fan base that would continue to support him for more than three decades.
Capitol eventually reissued virtually all of the titles from LeDoux’s Lucky Man catalog. His first Capitol album, Western Underground, was released in 1991. His second Capitol release, Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy, featured Brooks on the title track. Peaking at No. 7 in 1992, it was LeDoux’s only Top 10 single. LeDoux would later perform duets with others, including a 1994 pairing with Toby Keith on “Copenhagen” and a 1999 collaboration with Jon Bon Jovi on “Bang a Drum.”
With career sales of almost 6 million albums, LeDoux is the subject of numerous compilations. Among the most comprehensive are American Cowboy (1972-94), a three-CD set highlighting his earliest work, and The Capitol Collection (1990-2000) , featuring six previously-released albums and bonus tracks.
Living with his family on a ranch in Wyoming, LeDoux was a soft-spoken man who often seemed uneasy in discussing his formidable accomplishments. During a trip to Tennessee in 2003, Capitol Nashville presented him with a plaque for his career record sales. In accepting the plaque, LeDoux told the group, “I couldn’t have done this without the help of a lot of people. They gently nudged this lazy old cowboy along to get out there and do this for a living. If it weren’t for them, I’d be singing to the sheep and the cows still.”
Editor’s note: CMT Insider will feature more about Chris LeDoux’s life and career during the episode premiering Saturday (March 12) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.