SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Conway Twitty, who started as a teen rock idol in the 1950s and crossed over to country to become a star, died Saturday at age 59.
His wife, Dee Henry, other relatives and some of his band members were with him at Cox Medical Center-South when he died of complications from surgery after a blood vessel ruptured in his stomach.
Twitty collapsed on his tour bus during a rest stop in southwest Missouri. He was on the way home to Hendersonville, Tenn., from a performance Friday night in Branson.
Twitty was born Sept. 1, 1933, as Harold Lloyd Jenkins, named after the silent movie star. He changed his name in 1957 by borrowing from Conway, Ark., and Twitty, Texas.
After spending many years as a songwriter, his performing career took off with the name change. He recorded more than 40 No. 1 hits, including “Hello Darlin’,””Tight-Fittin’ Jeans” and “Linda on My Mind.”
“Everyone will remember Conway Twitty, industry and fans alike, as the consummate singer and performer, who has been this wonderful and dynamic presence in our business for over 30 years,” said Bruce Hinton, chairman of MCA Records in Nashville.
Twitty and Loretta Lynn won the Country Music Assn.’s Vocal Duo of the Year award in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975. They won a Grammy for their 1971 duet, “After The Fire Is Gone.”
“Mooney (Lynn’s husband) and I are devastated by the news,” Lynn said. “I’ve not only lost a great singing partner but also a great friend. My heart goes out to Conway’s family and we’re all going to miss him very much.”
Twitty got his break as a rockabilly artist in the 1950s, writing songs for the Sun Records’ stable of singers that included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.
His first hit was “It’s Only Make Believe,” which soared to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1958.
Twitty capitalized on his teen idol status by starring in the films “Sex Kittens Go to College” and “College Confidential.”
Despite the advice of managers, booking agents and record company people, Twitty made the switch to country and turned out a string of No. 1 hits until “Georgia Keeps Pulling on My Ring” missed in 1977.
In 1982, Twitty opened Twitty City, a nine-acre tourist complex in Hendersonville, a Nashville suburb.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his mother, Velma Jenkins; and his four children, Joni, Jimmy, Kathy and Michael. His mother and children live at Twitty City.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville.