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Grand Ole Opry Star
Johnny Russell Dies at 61

Date: July 3, 2001

Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell, whose song, "Act Naturally" was recorded by both Buck Owens and the Beatles, died Tuesday, (July 3, 2001). Born January 23, 1940, the singer was 61. Over the years Russell had battled leukemia, diabetes and other ailments. He was surrounded by family and friends when he died.

Russell says it took two years before anyone would record "Act Naturally," which was co-written with Vonni Morrison. In 1963, Buck Owens recorded it, and two years later, the Beatles, with Ringo Starr singing lead vocals recorded the song as well. In 1989, Owens and Starr recorded a duet of the song which was nominated for both a Grammy and a CMA award.

photo (c) Ron Newcomer
Photo © Ron Newcomer.
Used with permission.
Related Resources
Actin' Naturally CD Review

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If you ask Russell, he says, "It was a once in a lifetime thing. I'm just a little ol' country songwriter.''

Russell's own recording career took off in the 1970s. His biggest hit was, "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer," which went as high as #4 and was nominated for a Grammy in 1973.

In 1985, Russell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry where he would often quip, "Can everybody see me all right?" Russell, who weighed 275-pounds loved to joke, especially about himself. He said, "I've always loved to laugh, especially at my self. Probably my greatest satisfaction is to see my audiences give off a good belly laugh. It makes me feel great! I know they're enjoying themselves. And that's what entertainment is all about. That's my job."

Russell also wrote "Let's Fall To Pieces Together," which was a #1 hit for George Strait, and "Making Plans," which was recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on their Trio album. One of his early songs, "In a Mansion Stands My Love" was recorded by Jim Reeves, and became the flip side to Reeves' #1 hit, "He'll Have To Go."

Russell is survived by his son, John Jr.; daughter, Julie Morris; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


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