April 10, 1921
Erick, Oklahoma, United States
September 26, 2003
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
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A cowboy on and off the screen, Sheb Wooley embraced the Old West as an actor and singer and whose best known works included the song "The Purple People Eater" (1958) and a role as the gunslinger Ben Miller in the Academy Award-winning film "High Noon" (1953). He was born Shelby F. Wooley on April 10, 1921 in Erick, Oklahoma. Raised on a farm, he learned to ride horses at an early age and once worked as rodeo rider. The injuries he sustained during those hard riding days prevented him from serving during World War II. Instead, he moved to Hollywood where he pursued an acting and musical career, appearing in several western films at the height of the genre's commercial appeal. Wooley became an eternal piece of film trivia when he lent his voice to what would become one of Hollywood's most famous sound clips, the "Wilhelm Scream," first heard in the film "Distant Drums" (1951) and reused in literally hundreds of films thereafter. However, his most notable film role was in "High Noon" as the outlaw Ben Miller opposite Gary Cooper in his Oscar-winning role as Marshal Will Kane. In 1958, Wooley wrote and performed "The Purple People Eater," a novelty song that rose to become a number one hit in the United States. Wooley also played cowboys in the small screen, portraying Pete Nolan in the long-running western series "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1966) which starred Eric Fleming and a young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates. During this era, Wooley continued to focus attention to his music. In 1962, his song "That's My Pa" reached number one in Billboard's Hot Country and Western Charts. The popular country music variety show "Hee Haw" (CBS, 1969-1992) owed its theme song to Wooley, who wrote the song and occasionally made appearances throughout its 25-season run. As he aged, Wooley appeared less and less in front of the cameras. One of his last roles was Principal Cletus in the classic sports movie "Hoosiers" (1986) with Gene Hackman. In 1996, Wooley was diagnosed with leukemia but it would take a few years before he would succumb to the cancer. Wooley died at Skyline Medical Center in Nashville on September 16, 2003; he was 82 years old.