Rex Allen, the last of Hollywood’s singing cowboy stars also known for his lilting narration of Disney nature films, died at a Tucson hospital Dec. 17 after a female friend accidentally ran over him in his driveway, a hospital official said.
Allen, who was billed as “The Arizona Cowboy,” made more than 20 films for Republic Studios, which had previously made stars of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. He was supported in many of his pictures by stars Buddy Ebsen and Slim Pickens.
His big break came just after World War II, when he became a featured performer on “The National Barn Dance,” then the most popular radio program in the nation. He was signed to a contract with Mercury Records and wrote nearly 300 songs, and his recorded hits included “Streets of Laredo,” “Crying in the Chapel” and “I Won’t Need My Six-Gun in Heaven.”
He made his movie debut in 1949 in “The Arizona Cowboy.” Other films included “Under Mexicali Stars” (1950), “The Old Overland Trail” (1952), “Down Laredo Way” and “The Phantom Stallion” (both 1953).
He was the top box office Western star in 1953-54 and the No. 3 all-time moneymaker in this genre, behind Rogers and Autry.
On television, he was the star of “Frontier Doctor” in 1958 and appeared on many variety shows. In 1961 he joined fellow country-Western singers Jimmy Wakely, Tex Ritter and Carl Smith on “Five Star Jubilee.”
His voice became familiar to millions when he narrated a series of Walt Disney wildlife films in the 1960s. Later Allen concentrated on television and radio voice-overs for commercials and also narrated the 1973 animated feature film “Charlotte’s Web.”
Allen retired to Willcox, where he started the Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his three sons, one of whom is Rex Allen Jr., a country recording artist.