Born as Orvon Gene Autry in Tioga, Texas, his family moved to Ravia, Oklahoma in the 1920s. After leaving high school in 1925, Autry worked as a telegrapher for the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad . An amateur talent with the guitar and voice led to his performing at local dances. After an encouraging chance encounter with Will Rogers, he began performing on local radio in 1928 as Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy.
He signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1931, and worked at NBC's WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago for four years with his own show. His first hit was in 1932 with "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine", a duet with fellow railroad man Jimmy Long .
In 1934 he made his film debut for Republic Pictures in In Old Santa Fe; his first name role came in 1935 in the 13-part The Phantom Empire. He went on to make a further 44 films up to 1940, all B westerns in which he played under his own name, rode his horse Champion and had many opportunities to sing. He became the top Western star at the box-office by 1937, reaching his national peak of popularity from 1940 to 1942. He was the first of the singing cowboy s, succeeded as the top star by Roy Rogers when Autry served as a flier with the Air Transport command during World War II. From 1940 to 1956, Autry also had a weekly radio show on CBS, Gene Autry's Melody Ranch. Another money-spinner was his Gene Autry Flying "A" Ranch Rodeo show which first aired in 1940.
He briefly returned to Republic after the war before moving to Columbia in 1947. He also starred and produced his own television show on CBS from 1950. He retired from show business in 1964, having made almost a hundred films up to 1955 and over 600 records. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969. Post-retirement he invested widely in real estate, radio and television; in 1982 he sold television station KTLA (Los Angeles) for $245 million.
In 1960, when Major League Baseball announced plans to add an expansion team in Los Angeles, Autry – who had once declined an opportunity to play in the minor leagues – expressed an interest in acquiring the radio broadcast rights to the team's games; baseball executives were so impressed by his approach that he was persuaded to become the owner of the franchise rather than simply its broadcast partner. The team, initially called the Los Angeles Angels upon its 1961 debut, moved to suburban Anaheim in 1966 and became known as the California Angels, then the Anaheim Angels from 1997. In 1995 he sold a quarter share of the team to The Walt Disney Company, and a controlling interest the following year, with the remaining share to be transferred after his death.
In 1932 he married Ina May Spivey (d. 1980), who was the niece of Jimmy Long. He married Jacqueline Ellam in 1981.
His autobiography was published in 1976, co-written by Mickey Herskowitz; it was titled Back in the Saddle Again after his 1939 hit and signature tune. In 1988 he opened the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum (now called the Museum of the American West ) in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, featuring much of his collection of Western art and memorabilia. Included for many years on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, he slipped to their "near miss" category in 1995 with an estimated net worth of $320 million.
Gene Autry died of lymphoma at age 91 at his home in Los Angeles, and is interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2003. He is also the only person to date to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for contributions in all five possible categories: the motion picture star is located on 6644 Hollywood Blvd., the radio star is located on 6520 Hollywood Blvd., the recording star is located on 6384 Hollywood Blvd., the TV star is located on 6667 Hollywood Blvd. and the live theatre star is located on 7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Popular songs by Autry
- "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine"
- "The Last Roundup"
- "Cowboy’s Heaven"
- "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"
- "Mexicali Rose"
- "Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle"
- "Gold Mine in the Sky"
- "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)"
- "Back in the Saddle Again" (1939)
- "Be Honest With Me"
- "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1947)
- "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1949)
- "Peter Cottontail" (1950)
- "Frosty the Snow Man" (1950)
- GeneAutry.com - Official Website
- Biographical webpage from the Country Music Hall of Fame
- IMDb filmography
- Radio Hall of Fame
- Autobiography extract and photos from Songs Gene Autry Sings (1942)
Autry National Center
- Museum of the American West