PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) — Jimmie Rodgers, singer of the 1957 hits “Honeycomb” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” whose career in music and movies was disrupted by a severe head injury a decade later, has died at age 87.
Rodgers died from kidney disease on Jan. 18 in Palm Desert, California, and had also tested positive for COVID-19, publicist Alan Eichler said Saturday, citing family.
Rodgers performed for $10 a night around Nashville while stationed there with the U.S. Air Force after the Korean War. He appeared on a talent show and got an audition with Roulette Records, which signed him after hearing him perform “Honeycomb,” a song by Bob Merrill.
With a style of singing and playing guitar that included elements of country, folk and pop, the Camas, Washington native recorded many other Top 10 hits during the late 1950s, including “Secretly," “Oh-Oh, I'm Falling in Love Again,” and “Are You Really Mine?”
Rodgers continued making albums for the better part of the 1960s, producing music that ranged from covering traditional songs like “The Wreck Of The ‘John B.’” and "English Country Garden” to popular fare such as the ballad “Child of Clay.”
He had established himself on television with performances on variety shows when he moved into acting in movies during the 1960s. His film credits included “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come” and “Back Door to Hell” with a young Jack Nicholson.
In 1967, Rodgers was found in his car on a Los Angeles freeway suffering from a fractured skill and other injuries. He said he had pulled over and stopped in response to a driver behind him who was flashing his lights and that an attack from an an off-duty police officer had caused his head injuries.
"I rolled the window down to ask what was the matter,” he told The Toronto Star in 1987. “That’s the last thing I remember.”
Los Angeles police officers insisted that Rodgers had injured himself in a fall while drumk. Rodgers filed a lawsuit and agreed to a $200,000 settlement. He subsequently developed a condition that caused spasms in the muscles of his voice box. He also had occasional seizures, which he said were due to the attack.
After his initial recovery, Rodgers had a summer TV show on ABC in 1969 and also performed at his own theater in Branson, Missouri.
In a 2016 interview with The Spectrum, a Utah newspaper, Rodgers recalled finding a $10 guitar and singing when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Korea in 1953.
“We were sitting on the floor with only candles for light, and these tough soldiers had tears running down their cheeks. I realized if my music could have that effect, that’s what I wanted to do with my life," he said.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Louise Biggerstaff, and five children from three marriages.