Country-western singer, songwriter and actor Tex Williams, best known for his million-selling single “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette,” has died at the age of 68.
Williams, who enjoyed his greatest popularity in the 1940s, died Friday evening at Newhall Community Hospital of complications from cancer diagnosed several months ago, Dr. Bienvenido Tan said.
Besides “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke,” which told of the determination of smokers to keep puffing their cigarettes, Williams also received critical acclaim during the 1940s and early 1950s for his singles “California Polka,” “Texas in My Soul” and “Leaf of Love.”
Although Williams was a heavy smoker who went through as many as two packs a day, the cancer that killed him began in his bladder, forcing doctors to remove it, and later spread to his liver, said his daughter, Sandi Aiello. In the end, she said, Williams died of kidney failure.
Born Sol Williams on Aug. 23, 1917, in rural Ramsey, Ill., Williams had his own one-man band radio program on a local station by the age of 13. After completing high school, he moved to Los Angeles, where he broke into movies in a film called “Rollin’ Home to Texas” with Tex Ritter.
From the late 1930s to the early 1950s, while under contract to Universal International, Williams appeared in another 24 movies, with such co-stars as Charles Starrett, Buster Crabbe and Judy Canova.
During that time, he played with Peggy West and her Rocky Mountaineers, Cliff Goddard and his Reno Racketeers and the Colorado Hillbillies headed by Walt Schrum. During his first recording session after he joined Spade Cooley’s band as lead vocalist, Williams sang “Shame on You,” which was a major country-western hit during the mid-1940s.
In 1946, Williams formed his own 12-piece band, the Western Caravan, and signed with Capitol Records, soon establishing himself as one of that label’s major artists. For almost 10 years, the group drew capacity crowds in such places as the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles and Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom and Oriental Theatre.
Up to the time the group was disbanded in 1965, it was regularly featured on major radio and television programs, including the Grand Ole Opry, National Barn Dance and Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. Williams also starred for a time in his own network program, “Riverside Rancho.”
Although his performing career slowed in the 1960s and 1970s, Williams remained active in the country music community, becoming the first president of the Academy of Country and Western Music.
In 1983, Williams’ name was added to the Newhall Western Walk of Fame, which is dedicated to actors who made Old West movies in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Williams produced one of his last albums, “California Express Featuring Tex Williams,” in 1981. He staged his final performance last New Year’s Eve.
In addition to his daughter, Williams is survived by his wife, Dallas, and a 3-year-old granddaughter.