Ferlin Husky Dies at Age 85

Country Music Hall of Fame Member Best Known for No. 1 Hits "Gone" and "Wings of a Dove"

Country Music Hall of Fame member Ferlin Husky, whose recordings of “Gone” and “Wings of a Dove” each spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard‘s country singles chart, died Thursday (March 17) at age 85. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Husky, who had a history of heart ailments, was admitted to a Nashville-area hospital earlier this month and later received hospice care at his daughter’s home in Westmoreland, Tenn., where he died.

Born Dec. 3, 1925, in Cantwell, Mo., Husky recorded under two other names — singing honky-tonk music as Terry Preston and performing country comedy as Simon Crum. Husky began playing guitar as a child and was a teenager when he began performing at events in his hometown. Following a five-year stint in the Merchant Marines during World War II, he later found work as a disc jockey in Bakersfield, Calif., the same town that later launched the careers of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Husky used Terry Preston as his stage name when he signed his first recording contract with Four Star Records in 1949. Two years later, Husky met future Country Music Hall of Fame member Cliffie Stone, who managed Tennessee Ernie Ford. With Stone’s assistance, Husky signed with Capitol Records and recorded five singles as Preston. Under his own name, Husky first hit the chart in 1953 with “A Dear John Letter,” a duet with Jean Shepard. Although Husky was not credited on the original single, it spent six weeks at the top of Billboard‘s country singles chart and peaked at No. 4 on the pop chart.

Husky’s career was catapulted in 1957 with the release of “Gone,” a song he had previously recorded in 1952. Produced by Ken Nelson, the dramatic recording of the Smokey Rogers composition was underscored with vocals by the Jordanaires. In addition to the 10 weeks atop the country chart, “Gone” peaked at No. 4 on the pop charts and is widely regarded as one of the earliest examples of what became known as the Nashville Sound. Husky followed it up with two Top 10 country singles — “A Fallen Star” (released under his own name) and “Country Music Is Here to Stay” (as Simon Crum). A consummate entertainer, Husky’s concerts usually included a comedy segment with him as the Crum character.

Husky’s career enjoyed another boost in 1960 with the 10-week chart reign of “Wings of a Dove.” An inspirational song written by Bob Ferguson, the single reached No. 12 on the pop chart. Husky continued to record for Capitol through the early ’70s, although he scored just two more Top 10 singles — “Once” (1966) and “Just for You” (1967). Signing with ABC Records, his first single for the label, “True True Lovin’,” was released in 1973. His last chart appearance took place in 1975 with “She’s Not Yours Anymore.”

Husky appeared in more than 18 films, including projects starring Henry Fonda, John Carradine, Jayne Mansfield, Glenn Ford and Basil Rathbone. He has a star on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Husky briefly retired from performing after undergoing heart surgery in 1977. During the ’80s and ’90s, he appeared regularly at Christy Lane’s Theater in Branson, Mo.

He was formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on May 23, 2010. Other 2010 inductees included Don Williams, songwriter-record producer Billy Sherrill and the late Jimmy Dean. During the induction ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Husky was honored with musical tributes performed by singer Ronnie McDowell, the Jordanaires, songwriter Dallas Frazier and Ricky Skaggs and the Whites.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.