Shelby F. Wooley, a veteran actor who also recorded the song, “Purple People Eater,” died on Sept. 16 from leukemia. He was 82.
Growing up in Oklahoma, Wooley was a true cowboy. He did some rodeo riding and cattle rustling and formed his own country band. These skills would serve him well later in life.
During World War II, Wooley was labeled 4-F (ineligible for military service) because of injuries he’d suffered as a rodeo rider. So he moved to Nashville and made his first records for the Bullet label, but they didn’t get much airtime. In 1950, he signed a recording deal with MGM Records and moved to California. There he recorded a string of popular songs, like “Don’t Go Near the Eskimos” and “Talk Back Blubbering Lips.” He even wrote the theme song for the TV show, “Hee Haw.”
Wooley’s biggest hit came in 1958 when he recorded, “The Purple People Eater,” which topped the charts and sold 3 million copies. The silly tune about an unidentified flying object had people all over the U.S. singing, “It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.” When he performed under the name Ben Colder, Wooley was voted comedian of the year in 1968 by the Country Music Association.
His other forte was acting in Hollywood westerns. Since the 1950s, he appeared in dozens of them, including “High Noon,” “Rio Bravo” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” He transferred his acting talents to the small screen in 1958 when he starred as Pete Nolan in the TV show, “Rawhide,” a western that helped launch Clint Eastwood’s career.
At his request, Wooley’s funeral services will begin at high noon.
IMDb Filmography