JACKSONVILLE, FL — A living legend on the First Coast has been living among us for more than 50 years, and we have to stress the word “living.”
Recently Slim Whitman had to remind his fans that he was still alive after rumors began to spread that he had died around the time of his 85th birthday.
“I had gotten calls from all over the country asking if I was dead, and I told them ‘If I could still sing, then I couldn’t be dead, and I could still sing’”, explains Whitman with a smile.
And, this wasn’t the first time rumors like this were started.
11 years ago, Jay Leno on the Tonight Show made a joke about Slim Whitman and Fats Domino and made reference to them both being dead.
Slim Whitman had to return a lot of phone calls back then too.
To help him set the record straight again, I decided to catch up with this amazing man to learn more about his life on the First Coast and his impressive career.
We met at the McDonald’s in Middleburg, where there are pictures of him and his son hanging in a special place of honor.
He brought with him old newspaper clippings, two of his gold albums, one platinum and a replica of his star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“My star is one of the first 18,” says Whitman.
But one of the most treasured items Whitman showed me was an article about his wife and how she helped his career get started.
“She was the woman behind the man,” says Whitman.
He goes on the explain, “Along in that time, if someone pointed a finger at me, I couldn’t talk. I would stutter. And for each song, she’d say ‘Here he is’.”
Whitmans’ wife Gerry would introduce him before he performed on his radio show in Tampa.
Eventually, Whitman was able to go on stage and perform without stuttering.
And, it was during one of those radio shows that Colonel Tom Parker heard Whitman.
Colonel Parker helped Slim Whitman sign his first record deal.
Later Col. Parker discovered Elvis; and Elvis used to open the shows for Slim.
Slim remembers the time he let Elvis borrow on of his trademark white rhinestone jackets on stage, ” And, he came back and said ‘How did I do?’ and I said you did good.
They thought I came back,” joked Slim.
Slim Whitman has been called a country crooner and “American’s Favorite Folk Singer.”
He has a vocal range of 3 octaves and is known for his yodeling.
“But, I had no idea that the yodeling, that I was doing then would turn into something that I could really show off without really showing off,” remembers Slim.
His fame reached record proportions in the United Kingdom, where he sold more albums than he Beatles, and held the number one spot on the record chart for 11 weeks.
A record that lasted for 36 years for his song “Rosemarie.”
And, in 1997, it was Slim Whitman’s voice that Tim Burton chose to knock the aliens out of the sky in the re-make of “Mars Attacks.”
Although, he’s traveled all over the world, Slim Whitman’s life is deeply rooted in Florida.
He was born Ottis Dew Whitman in 1923 in Tampa.
He met his wife Geradine “Gerry” Crist when he was just 15.
They married a few years later, and they’ve lived on her family’s farm in Middleburg for the past 53 years.
In June, Slim Whitman and his wife will have been married 67 years.
They have two children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
He and his son Byron used to tour together.
He made 103 albums, and sold more than 70 million records world-wide.
He was in the navy and used to play baseball with the Plant City Berries, a Class C team in the Orange Belt League.
Before wrapping up my interview with Mr. Whitman, some fans
who had been waiting, finally were able to come forward and give him a big hug.
They talked for a while and remembered some of their favorite songs.
Slim Whitman looked at me and said…”See, the music still lives on today.”
And despite the rumors, so does Slim Whitman.
Source: First Coast News