Shelby "Shel" Silverstein, colorful songwriter, author of children's books, illustrator and recording artist, was found dead Monday morning, May 10, of a heart attack. Silverstein, 66, was discovered by two housekeepers in his home in Key West, Fla. He had severe coronary artery disease, and friends said he complained of an upset stomach and "didn't feel quite right," said Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Eicher.
Silverstein had a powerful Nashville, Tenn. connection, having penned
the hit song "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash, which won the Grammy in 1969 for best country song. He also wrote "One's On
The Way" and "Hey Loretta" for Loretta Lynn, "Big Four Poster Bed" for Brenda Lee, "The Taker" (with Kris Kristofferson) for
Waylon Jennings, and "Queen of the Silver Dollar" for Dave & Sugar. Having been born and raised in Chicago, he was influenced
musically by the folk music scene. His 1961 album, Inside Folk Songs, contained "The Unicorn" and "25 Minutes to Go,"
which became folk classics.
Singer Bobby Bare recorded his groundbreaking concept album, Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys,
Legends, and Lies, from Silverstein's songs, as well as several albums more of his work. The Old Dogs album on
Atlantic Records, recorded by Bare, Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed, was another of Silverstein's well-known projects.
After a chance encounter with the band Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, Silverstein wrote their breakthrough pop hits
"Sylvia's Mother" and "The Cover of Rolling Stone." The song landed the band on the cover of that magazine, and Buck
Owens did a country spoof of the song, "On the Cover of the Music City News."
Silverstein will perhaps best
be remembered for his children's books, which sold an estimated 14 million copies. His acclaimed works include The Giving
Tree (1964), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974) and A Light in the Attic (1981), which contain amusing and silly
poems well-loved by children and adults alike. Silverstein illustrated the books himself with whimsical, irreverent images
such as walruses with braces and camels in brassieres.
Besides authoring books, he wrote a screenplay with David Mamet
titled Things Change, as well as an original play, The Lady or the Tiger Show. Silverstein began his illustrious
career as a cartoonist for Playboy magazine in 1952. He also was a cartoonist for Pacific Stars & Stripes, a
military publication, and Time magazine.