Gilley had 17 number one country records, starting with “Room Full of Roses” in 1974. Gilley also had major crossover success in 1980 with a country-flavored cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” going to number one on the Billboard Hot Country listings and number three on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Gilley’s musical career got new life with the film “Urban Cowboy,” which starred John Travolta and was set at Gilley’s own honky tonk club in Pasadena, Texas. The movie helped to popularize country-western culture in urban environments, including mechanical bull riding, which was the focus of the film’s action.
In 1989, Gilley was one of the first major country singers to open his own theater in Branson, Missouri, helping to turn the Ozark hamlet into a major entertainment tourism town. His publicist said Gilley had just finished a ten-show road tour in April.
Gilley was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1984. Among his survivors are fellow crossover music star Jerry Lee Lewis, Gilley’s cousin, best known for singing “Great Balls of Fire.”