PURPLE PEOPLE EATER


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Sheb Wooley

Shelby F. "Sheb" Wooley (April 10, 1921 September 16, 2003) was a character actor and singer, best known for his 1958 novelty song "Purple People Eater".[1] He played Ben Miller, brother of Frank Miller in the film High Noon, played Travis Cobb in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and also had a co-starring role as scout Pete Nolan in the television program Rawhide.

Wooley was born in Erick, Oklahoma, and was raised on a farm. He learned to ride horses at an early age, and was a working cowboy and rodeo rider. He also played in a country-western band. Wooley tried to enlist during World War II, but was turned down for military service because of his rodeo injuries. Instead, he worked in the oil industry and as a welder. In 1946, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and became a country and western musician. He moved to Hollywood in 1949.

Wooley appeared in dozens of western films from the 1950s through 1970s, most notably High Noon. In 1954, he played outlaw Jim Younger in the syndicated western series Stories of the Century. Wooley appeared five times as Carl in the syndicated western series The Adventures of Kit Carson (19511955). He appeared in The Cisco Kid in the role of Bill Bronson. Wooley guest starred as Harry Runyon in the episode "The Unmasking" of the CBS western My Friend Flicka. In 1958 he played Baxter in the movie Terror in a Texas Town.

Wooley co-starred as Pete Nolan in the CBS western Rawhide (19591966) with Eric Fleming, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Brinegar. He also acted in the films The Outlaw Josey Wales and Giant. Wooley also co-starred along with Gene Hackman in the movie Hoosiers. He played Cletus,the principal.

In the 1940s Wooley took an interest in his wife's young cousin, Roger Miller (who also grew up in Erick, Oklahoma), teaching him to play guitar chords, and purchasing him a fiddle.

In the late 1950s, Wooley embarked on a recording career, with the song that made him famous, the "Purple People Eater". He followed this with a series of lesser novelty hits. Wooley wrote the theme song for the long-running television show Hee Haw.

Wooley also had a string of country hits, his "That's My Pa" reaching No. 1 of Billboard magazine's Hot C&W Sides chart in March 1962. He was a regular on Hee Haw and The Muppet Show as the drunken country songwriter Ben Colder. He released music and performed as Ben Colder. Wooley also performed using his own name as well. Wooley had intended to record the song "Don't Go Near The Indians", but he was delayed by an acting job. Meanwhile, Rex Allen recorded the song and it was a hit. Wooley said he did not mind - he would do the sequel. His version was "Don't Go Near the Eskimos", about a boy in Alaska named Ben Colder (had never "been colder"). His song was so successful he continued using the name for forty years, one of his last recordings being "Shaky Breaky Car" (which parodied the song "Achy Breaky Heart").

Wooley is credited as the voice actor for the Wilhelm scream, having appeared on a memo as a voice extra for Distant Drums and later confirmed by his widow. This particular scream recording has been used by sound effects teams in over 149 films. Wooley continued occasional television and film appearances through the 1990s, including an appearance as Cletus Summers, principal of Hickory High School in the 1986 film Hoosiers.

In 1996 he was diagnosed with leukemia. He died at the Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee in 2003 and was buried in Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Hendersonville, Tennessee.


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