Never has a man who was just 4'10" stood so tall in the world of country music.
The legendary Little Jimmy Dickens died today (1/2) in a Nashville hospital of heart failure. He suffered a stroke on Christmas day, just six days after his 94th birthday. Two weeks ago he made his final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, performing in honor of his birthday.
James Cecil Dickens was born December 19, 1920 in Bolt, West Virginia. He dropped out of college to pursue a career in country music. He was signed to Columbia Records in the late 40's and joined the Opry in 1948.
The hits came early and often: "Take an Old, Cold Tater (and Wait)" established him as a star and gave him his nickname of "Tater," courtesy of Hank Williams. He mixed novelty songs (his biggest hit, 1965's "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose," crossed over to the pop charts) and serious tunes (his recitation about a man who visited his daughter's grave, "(You've Been Quite a Doll) Raggedy Ann") with onstage humor (usually introducing himself on the Opry as, "I'm Little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson after taxes") to become one of country's most enduring performers. WSM DJ and Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs frequently said that Dickens was the only person who could follow Garth Brooks during Brooks' heyday in the 90's....and Dickens was in his mid-70's at the time!
Dickens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. His "hits" may have ended by then, but his career was far from exhausted. He continued to tour extensively into the late 1990's, headlining at Opry tours and his own shows. Even after he retired from the road he continued as one of the most beloved members of the Opry.
In the past few years Dickens has suffered numerous health problems, including a subdural hematoma and throat cancer. He managed to continue to perform, although with increasing infrequency, until the end.
Survivors include his wife, Mona, two daughters, and generations of fans who enjoyed the music and entertainment of Little Jimmy Dickens.
As the Bill Anderson song that Dickens recorded in the early 70's said, "there's been a death in the family." Country music's family has decreased by one incredibly gigantic talent.
Rest in peace, Tater.