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Allen’s death a tragic accident, police say

• A family friend backed over him with his own car, investigators say.

MICHAEL LAFLEUR Citizen Staff Writer

Tucson police say they believe the death of silver screen legend Rex Allen Sr. yesterday was a horrible accident.

A long time family friend, who was driving Allen’s car, backed over him in the driveway of his Near East Side home, in the 3000 block of N. Hill Farm Drive about 11 a.m., said Sgt. Judy Altieri, a Tucson Police Department spokeswoman.

The woman, who was taking Allen to a doctor’s appointment, apparently did not see him as she was pulling Allen’s Cadillac out of his garage, apparently with the intention of calling him to the car, Altieri said.

Police are investigating whether he may have stumbled or been overcome by a medical condition before being run over, she said.

”There is evidence that leads us to believe that he may have collapsed or fallen down prior to being run over rather than being knocked down by the impact of the vehicle and then run over,” Altieri said.

Allen, 79, was taken to Tucson Medical Center after being pulled from beneath his car, Altieri said. He died at 5:20 p.m.

Allen starred in nearly 50 movies, narrated 150 Walt Disney specials and often starred in commercials. He was considered the last of the silver-screen cowboys and outlived his contemporaries, including Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

”We may never know exactly what happened,” Altieri said.

Investigators want to determine whether Allen fell because he was suffering from some sort of ailment. An autopsy will be performed.

However, police are investigating the death as an accident.

”It really is a very tragic incident,” she said.

Neighbors recalled Allen as a private man who was always willing to wave and smile at passersby. Many of them were familiar with the colorful past of ”The Arizona Cowboy.”

”He’s one of the good ‘ol boys from Willcox,” said neighbor Dick Butcher. ”No airs about him at all.”

Allen’s son, Rex Allen Jr., declined comment when reached at his Nashville home yesterday. He and his four siblings were scheduled to arrive in Tucson late last night.

Allen moved to Tucson from a Sonoita ranch in early 1995 with his wife, the former Virginia Hudson – variably described as his third, fourth or fifth spouse – also a Willcox native. Married on Nov. 25, 1992, the couple reportedly separated this year.

Allen’s public appearances had dwindled in recent years with his last coming in early November at the Western Music Association’s annual festival. He served as chairman of the association’s advisory board and was a founding member.

In October, Willcox’s annual festival to honor its favorite son, Rex Allen Days, was called the ”Tribute of the Century” to the singer.

Rex Allen Jr. performed in two of the festival’s headline shows, during which his father made brief appearances.

Although Allen rarely sang in public in recent years, he performed his trademark song, ”Arizona Cowboy,” and ”Money, Marbles and Chalk” at the 1997 Rex Allen Days festival. Rex Allen Jr. then joined him to sing his father’s biggest hit, ”The Streets of Laredo.”

Allen recently recorded a new album with Western star Don Edwards, which is expected to be released early next year, according to producer Snuff Garrett, a longtime friend of Allen’s.

Allen narrated more than 150 Walt Disney specials in addition to his radio, singing and acting careers. His career began in the 40s and his smooth baritone was also featured in numerous voiceovers and commercials, which he continued to do even in his later years.

Allen has given voice to characters including Country Coyote, Wildcat Bobcat, Greta the Misfit Greyhound, Nosey the Sweetest Skunk and Stud the Best Cowdog in the West.

In a screen acting career that began with Republic Studios in 1950, Allen stared in 36 films. He later did 10 more movies for Fox and Paramount.

Unfortunately for him, the movie cowboy era was winding down, but he followed the lead of William Boyd (”Hopalong Cassidy”) and turned to television.

He starred in 39 episodes of ”Frontier Doctor” between 1955 and 1957.

Allen’s poor childhood made him appreciate the success he achieved.

”I have lived the American dream,” he said in 1997. ”I really have. Wanna see the American dream? You’re looking at it.”

Allen’s mother traveled 40 miles to Willcox from a homestead in the Galiuro Mountains to give birth, returning to the ranch with him a week later, he said. He didn’t return to Willcox until he was six years old.

Differing biographies list his birthdate in 1920, which is most commonly accepted, or 1924.

Allen had four sisters and a brother. The brother died of a rattlesnake bite at age 7.

His mother died while he was still a child and he was reared by his father, Horace, who raised cattle and horses, did some farming and worked as a trucker.

Horace also played fiddle at area dances, eventually encouraging a 12-year-old Allen to learn to play the guitar to accompany him. Allen also developed a distinctive voice, singing at glee clubs and with church choirs.

After high school, he arranged for a half-hour Saturday radio show on KOY in Phoenix, where he worked under the stage name ”Cactus Rex.” Jack Williams, later governor of Arizona, served as his announcer.

The owner of KOY also owned WLS in Chicago, home of the National Barn Dance – the mecca of country music then. Allen worked there for more than four years, with his own band, playing theaters and fairs when not on the air.

He began a recording career that eventually produced 15 albums and he sold 4 million singles.

In a 1997 interview, Allen joked that his reason for working in radio, TV, movies and on records was to keep his family going.

”Had to make a living for all those kids,” he said.

When asked to name his greatest accomplishment, he chuckled and said, ”Just the whole thing.”

”God gave him a voice,” his former wife, Virginia Allen, said. ”And nobody has anything like it.”

Allen has been described by friends as a down-to-earth man. He could put his career into perspective.

In a 1988 interview with the Citizen, he said: ”There are three stages of show business. The first stage is: ‘Rex Allen? Who the hell is that?’

”The second is: ‘There he goes! Catch him! Get his autograph! Tear his hat off! Get a piece of his shirt! There he goes, over there!’

”The third stage is: ‘Rex Allen? I thought he died . . .’ ”

Despite his self-effacing humor, Allen’s influence will long be felt.

In 1997, Western music historian and Western Music Association member Fred Goodwin called Allen ”The Ambassador to the American West.”

”He’ll go out of his way for you – for anybody,” said Goodwin, a family friend. ”He just wants to make people happy. He doesn’t want to insult anyone. He’s a true gentlemen. He and Roy Rogers are true, Western gentlemen.”


• Full name: Rex Elvie Allen.

• Nicknames: The Arizona Cowboy, The Voice of the West, The Ambassador of Western Music.

• Birth date: Dec. 31, 1920, although some biographies list his birth year as late as 1924.

• Birthplace: Willcox

• Family: Married since Nov. 25, 1992, to Virginia Hudson Allen. Married and divorced twice previously. Sons: Rex Jr., Curt, Mark.

• Daughters: Rexina and Bonita.

• Films included:

”Arizona Cowboy”; ”Under Mexicali Stars”; ”Trail of Robin Hood”; ”The Hills of Oklahoma”; ”Thunder in God’s Country”; ”Utah Wagon Train”; ”Colorado Sundown”; ”The Last Musketeer”; ”Down Laredo Way”; ”Shadows of Tombstone”; ”Tomboy and the Champ”; ”Secret of Navajo Cave.”

• Television appearances included:

”Disneyland” (occasional narrator); ”Frontier Doctor” series; ”Five Star Jubilee” series; ”Town Hall Party.”

• Hit songs included:

”Arizona Cowboy”; ”Crying in the Chapel”; ”The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”; ”Old Faithful”; ”Invitation to the Blues”; ”Money, Marbles and Chalk”; ”On Top of Old Smoky”; ”Lonesome Valley”; ”Flowers of San Antone.”

Friends mourn loss of ‘Arizona Cowboy,’ Rex Allen of Willcox

A.J. FLICK Citizen Country Music Writer

The year 2000 will dawn without any of the great silver screen cowboys.

Friends last night remembered ”The Arizona Cowboy,” Rex Allen, for his charm, wit, gentlemanly manners and golden voice. Mr. Allen, who died yesterday afternoon after he was run over in his driveway, would have turned 80 on New Year’s Eve.

His passing was noted on yesterday’s broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry.

”They’re all gone, all the silver screen cowboys are gone,” said Wilma Schooler, a founding member of the Tucson-based Western Music Association. ”Lord, I miss them.”

A few days ago, Mr. Allen had heard the final mixes of his coming duet album with Western star Don Edwards.

”What’s nice is that he really liked it,” Edwards said last night from his Weatherford, Texas, home.

”He was such a neat person. To get to know him, to be his friend, was more than I expected in my lifetime,” Edwards said. ”These guys were all my heroes – Rex, Gene (Autry) and Roy (Rogers) – and that we could lose them all within such a short period of time, it’s so hard to comprehend. It really hasn’t sunk in.”

”I think Rex would want to be remembered as a good person,” said Western music historian and Western Music Association member Fred Goodwin of Murfreesboro, Tenn. ”He would want to be remembered as ‘The Arizona Cowboy.’

”He never forgot where he came from, the people who helped him along the way, everybody,” said Goodwin, a close family friend. ”He never forgot Willcox. He was the Ambassador of the West, a true Western gentleman, and he had the greatest voice of anybody.”

Western star and broadcaster Johnny Western considered Mr. Allen his mentor and friend.

”I met him 50 years ago when I was a kid,” said Western, from his Wichita, Kan., home last night. ”The neat thing is, he treated me no different at Rex Allen Days this year than he did 50 years ago when I met him. He was always the same guy.

”Rex Allen has been such a big part of my life, it’s like someone took out a piece of my stomach . . . That’s how empty I feel.

”I will miss him every day of my life, for as long as I live,” Western vowed.

Mr. Allen’s last public appearance was early November at the Western Music Association’s annual festival. Mr. Allen, a founding member of the WMA, was chairman of the the group’s advisory board.

Edwards surprised the audience at his festival appearance by playing one cut off his upcoming album with Mr. Allen, ”Empty Saddles.” It was such a touching moment that even producer Snuff Garrett, a close friend of Mr. Allen’s, was moved to tears. The album was scheduled to be released early next year.

In October, Willcox’s annual festival to honor its favorite son was made even more special as the ”Tribute of the Century” to Mr. Allen.

Rex Allen Jr. performed in the festival’s two headline shows, during which his father made brief appearances.

Earlier this year, the independent Soundies Records label released a CD of 22 unreleased Rex Allen songs recorded at Chicago radio station WLS just before Mr. Allen made it big on the silver screen and earned the title ”The Arizona Cowboy” from the movie and song of the same name.

The album contains a duet with Rex Jr.’s mother, Bonnie Linder, called ”Gonna Marry Me a Cowboy,” written by Mr. Allen.

Mr. Allen rarely sang in public in recent years. Though he always claimed that he couldn’t sing anymore, he sometimes proved himself wrong. In 1997, Mr. Allen sang ”The Arizona Cowboy” and ”Money, Marbles and Chalk” at Rex Allen Days in Willcox. Rex Jr. then joined him to sing Mr. Allen’s biggest hit, ”Streets of Laredo.”

In early 1995, Mr. Allen moved from Sonoita to Tucson with his wife, the former Virginia Hudson, also a Willcox native. They were married on Nov. 25, 1992, and reportedly separated this year.

As with many Hollywood stars, some facts about Mr. Allen’s life differ in various reports. Virginia was his third, fourth or fifth wife, depending upon whom you asked. And some biographies list his birth year as 1920, which is considered to be the correct year, while others say it’s 1924.

Though in recent years Mr. Allen’s public appearances were limited, he continued to use his smooth baritone to do commercials. In 1996, the Walt Disney Co. gave him a plaque that read in part:

”As Disney’s favorite narrator, you’re strictly first rate.

”Thanks for entertaining the world with your wonderful voice.”

It was signed by the characters he gave his voice to, including Country Coyote, Wildcat Bobcat and Nosey the Sweetest Skunk.

In a 1997 interview, Mr. Allen joked that his reason for working in radio, TV, movies and on records was to keep his family going.

”Had to make a living for all those kids,” he said.

PHOTO CAPTIONS: File photo by MARY CHIND/Tucson Citizen

Rex Allen at Rex Allen Days in Willcox in 1998

Tucson Citizen file photo

Rex Allen Sr. and Rex Allen Jr. at the Western Music Festival in Tucson in 1985

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