Pat Reeder: A Final Curtain Call

April 18, 2019 |

(From “Huckabee” writer and resident pop culture historian Pat Reeder: )


It’s time to give a final curtain call to two well-loved stars from very different fields.  First, it was announced that Georgia Engel passed away last Friday in New Jersey at 70 (she was a Christian Scientist who didn’t consult doctors, so no cause of death was given.)


She first came to fame on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as Ted Baxter’s girlfriend/wife Georgette, a role for which she earned two Emmy nominations.  She later played Robert’s mother-in-law Pat on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (three Emmy nominations) and eventually reteamed with her “MTM Show” co-star Betty White on “Hot In Cleveland.”


Engel was the daughter of a US Coast Guard Admiral, and she grew up constantly moving to different places.  Maybe that contributed to her developing the unique, shy, trying-hard-to-please persona that made her famous.  Her soft voice and timid, innocent manner were the delivery system for some hilariously incongruous lines, such as telling her sanctimonious husband on “Raymond, “Now, you know I love you with all my heart, Hank.  But I think if I didn't have my cigarettes, I would have to FIGHT you!”  


In addition to her many TV roles, she also appeared on stage.  Bob Martin, who co-wrote the Broadway musical hit “The Drowsy Chaperone,” tweeted, “I have never met anyone who was less like anyone else than Georgia Engel.”  Betty White once said of her, “That’s not a character, that’s our Georgia.  What you see is what you get.” As if to verify that, her death sparked an outpouring of loving praise and memories from her co-stars and colleagues, and their comments are collected here:



There’s also sad news for country music fans: Earl Thomas Conley died April 10th at 77 after a long struggle with cerebral atrophy, a dementia-like condition.  Superstar Blake Shelton announced his death, calling Conley “my all-time favorite singer, hero and my friend.”  When Shelton won the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year award, he dedicated it to Conley, who had never won.


Conley’s life really reflected the lyrics of a country song, with years of struggles before and after reaching success, and a “never give up” attitude.  He served in the Army, then moved to Nashville, playing clubs at night while working blue collar day jobs.  Ironically, it was only after he moved to Alabama to work in a steel mill that he was signed to a small label and finally released a record.  Moving back to Nashville, he signed to Warners, but still struggled for several more years as he wrote songs for others, such as Conway Twitty’s #1 hit, “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me.”  At long last, he was signed by RCA and scored his first #1 record, “Fire & Smoke,” which led to a long series of hits throughout the ‘80s. 


Between 1983 and 1989, all of Conley’s singles hit #1 except “Too Many Times,” a duet with Anita Pointer, which peaked at #2.  The consolation was that he became the rare country singer ever to perform on “Soul Train.”


When the hits dried up in the early ‘90s, the label he’d helped enrich in more ways than one dropped him.  But he continued touring and playing for his many loyal fans, some of whom were big stars who kept his name alive however they could, such as Blake Shelton (who recorded Conley’s song “All Over Me” in 2002) and Toby Keith, who called Conley “an all-time great” and “a huge influence on me.”  


For nostalgic fans or for those who might like to discover an artist who deserves to be better remembered, here is a collection of some of his ‘80s hits.

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