Steve Sanders dies at 45

Musician was rhythm guitarist for the Oak Ridge Boys

Steve Sanders, who was part of the Oak Ridge Boys for nearly a decade and sang on some of the million-selling group’s later hits, died early June 10 in his Florida home. His wife told police he shot himself. He was 45.

The country-gospel group is best known for its 1981 million-seller “Elvira.”

Sanders was a rhythm guitarist backing up the vocal group for five years before he joined the Oak Ridge Boys proper in 1987. He replaced baritone William Lee Golden, famous among fans for his “Mountain Man” attire, long hair and beard.

During his tenure, Sanders performed on No. 1 country hits including “It Takes a Little Rain (to Make Love Grow),” “This Crazy Love” and “Gonna Take a Lot of River.”

A native of Richland, Ga., he began his career as a child in gospel music, billed as Little Stevie Sanders. He appeared as a child on Broadway in “The Yearling” and in the 1967 film “Hurry Sundown,” with Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway.

The death is being investigated as a suicide, said Jeanne Schick of the Lee County, Fla., medical examiner’s office. An autopsy was delayed while family members make arrangements to donate Sanders’ organs, she said.