The news came out this evening that Grand Ole Opry member, and Country Music Hall of Famer, Jimmy Dickens has passed away at the age of 94. We know now that on Christmas day, he suffered a stroke and while the initial reports were hopeful that he was recovering, he died from cardiac arrest this afternoon. On December 19, he celebrated his birthday and the following night, December 20, he appeared on the Opry for the final time. I feel very lucky that I was at the Opry the week before and Jimmy was there. While looking thinner then in the past, he looked and sounded good and was very energetic on stage. He left us all with a good memory.
I am not going to write the biography of Jimmy as Peter Cooper has done an excellent job in the Nashville Tennessean. While reading what Peter wrote, I had to smile and remember all of the great things that Jimmy had done in his career and how long is career really was. He outlasted everyone from the 1940s and he always enjoyed telling stories about those early years. While physically he was wearing down, mentally he was still sharp.
I was lucky enough to have met Jimmy a few years back while at the Opry. His kindness was appreciated as even though I have been around a while and have met many entertainers, I was still nervous when asking him for a picture. As we finished up, I turned to him and told him thanks and how much I appreciated his time. He turned to me and said, "No, THANK YOU for coming to the Opry." He always appreciated his fans.
I have to admit that for many years I was not a huge fan of Jimmy. I don't know what it was, but I just didn't think of him in the same terms as I did of Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner or Minnie Pearl, all of whom you immediately associated with the Opry. But as Jimmy's legacy grew over the past several decades, I came to appreciate him even more. Well into his 80's, and turning 90, he kept coming back from each serious illness. Just when you would think he was not going to be at the Opry, you turned on the radio and there he was. He set an example that today's generation of Opry stars would find hard to follow. Maybe that is why it is so hard to accept that this time he really is gone.
Many of his fans know of Jimmy only for his comedy and comedy songs. But let me tell you, back in his prime, Jimmy was one of the finest ballad singers around. He would bring a tear to your eye with "Raggedy Ann" and some of the others. He was able to poke fun at himself and be the butt of many jokes. That is an art in itself.
Listening to Pete Fisher tonight on the Opry and the dedication that he did, he was very emotional and could not get through it and broke down. I have never heard Pete that way before when expressing his thoughts about any of the Opry's members. I think it shows how much Jimmy was thought of at the Opry. Some of you may or may not know this, but on December 14, Pete had a surprise 94th birthday party for Jimmy at his house. I am told it was well attended.
2014 was a tough year at the Opry as we lost Jimmy C Newman, George Hamilton IV and Earl White. Now we start off 2015 with the passing of Jimmy Dickens and the continued illness of Jim Ed Brown. Each of these entertainers were pillars of the Opry. As we listen to the Opry this weekend and the various dedications for Jimmy, I am sure all of us will remember the good times, the jokes and the great songs. And we will remember his love for the Opry and for his fans. He appreciated each one of us, just as we appreciated him.