Crossover country star, songwriter and actor Mac Davis has died, one day after the news broke that he had become critically ill while recovering from heart surgery in Nashville. The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, onetime Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year winner, and writer of the Elvis Presley hits “A Little Less Conversation,” “Memories” and “In the Ghetto” was 78 years old.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of Mac Davis. He was surrounded by the love of his life and wife of 38 years, Lise, and his [children] Scott, Noah and Cody,” Davis’s longtime manager, Jim Morey, wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “Mac has been my client for over 40 years, and more importantly... my best friend. He was a music legend but his most important work was that as a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. I will miss laughing about our many adventures on the road and his insightful sense of humor. When there was a tough decision to be made he often told me, ‘You decide… I'm going to the golf course!’ To quote from his song ‘I Believe in Music,’ ‘I could just sit around making music all day long/As long as I’m making my music ain’t gonna do nobody no harm/And who knows maybe I’ll come up with a song.’ And he did... time after time.”
Davis was born on Jan. 21, 1942, in Lubbock, Texas. After graduating from high school, he moved to Atlanta, where he began his music career as a member of a rock ’n’ roll band called the Zots. He later worked as a regional manager for both Vee-Jay Records and Liberty Records before getting a job at Nancy Sinatra’s company, Boots Enterprises, Inc., where he played on many of Sinatra’s recordings and got his start as a professional songwriter. His compositions were eventually recorded by Presley, Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Bobby Goldsboro, Lou Rawls, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, B.J. Thomas and many others. What became his signature song, 1970’s “I Believe in Music,” was also recorded as the first Capitol Records single for Helen Reddy, who died the same day as Davis, Sept. 29, also at age 78.
After leaving Boots Enterprises in 1970 to sign with Columbia Records, Davis became a successful countrypolitan solo singer in his own right, achieving his first big crossover success with “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” which topped both the country and pop charts and sold more than 1 million copies in 1972. His other hits in the ’70s and ’80s included “Stop and Smell the Roses,” “One Hell of a Woman,” “Rock 'N Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life),” “Burnin’ Thing,” “It's Hard to Be Humble,” “Texas in My Rear View Mirror,” “Hooked on Music” and “I Never Made Love (Till I Made Love With You).” Davis was named ACM Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year in 1974.
From 1974 to 1976, Davis hosted his own NBC variety series, The Mac Davis Show; he also starred in 11 television specials between 1975 and 1983, nine of them Christmas-themed. He made his big-screen acting debut co-starring with Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty, a breakout performance that led to him being named one of Screen World magazine’s “Promising New Actors of 1979” alongside Bette Midler, Bo Derek, Amy Irving, Ricky Schroder and John Savage. Although a role opposite Jackie Gleason and Karl Malden in 1983’s ill-fated, critically panned The Sting II caused Davis’s acting career to stall, over the years he continued to sporadically appear in films and television shows, and he occasionally took on cartoon voiceover work as well. His final acting gig was in 2019, as Reverend Riggs in Dolly Parton’s Netflix series Heartstrings.
Davis is survived by his third wife, Lise Gerard, whom he married in 1982; their two children, Noah Claire and Cody Luke; and a son from his first marriage to Fran Cook, Joel Scott.
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