Country singer Slim Whitman, known for his distinctive yodel and 1955 hit “Rose Marie,” passed away early on Wednesday morning. His family tells the BBC that Whitman died overnight of heart failure in a Florida hospital. Whitman was 90.
Whitman, born Ottis Dewey Whitman Jr. on January 20, 1923, made a name for himself in the 1950s with his country and western songwriting and high-pitched yodeling falsetto. His 1955 song “Rose Marie” held the Guinness World Record for the longest time at number one on the U.K. singles chart -- 31 years -- until Bryan Adams broke the record in 1991. The song spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts.
The Florida-born Whitman learned to play guitar while serving the the South Pacific theater of World War II. Whitman was right-handed, but learned to play the guitar with his left hand after an accident cut off most of a finger. After the war, he embarked on a career in country music, beginning with the release of his first single in 1948. By 1950, he had secured a spot on the widely heard “Louisiana Hayride” radio show, which further spread his fame.
Later, in the 1970s and '80s, Whitman’s music enjoyed a resurgence after a greatest-hits album “All My Best” received wide promotion on a TV marketing commercial. “All My Best” was so popular that it led to appearances on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.”
Whitman’s music was most widely known to non-American audiences in Ireland, England, South America and Australia. As the Guardian notes, Whitman’s strong, operatic yodel was seen to many as emblematic of the American West.
In recent years, Whitman’s music made a mark on younger generations when it was used in Tim Burton’s 1996 film “Mars Attacks!” In the movie, his yodeling in the song “Indian Love Call” was found to kill invading Martians by exploding their heads.
Whitman continued to tour and record music periodically up until his death. In 2010, he released his final album of new material, “Twilight on the Trail.”
For 67 years, Whitman was married to fellow songwriter Alma “Jerry” Crist Whitman. The two had two children, Sharon and Byron. Alma died in 2009 as the result of liver failure.
Listen to Whitman’s“Rose Marie” below.