Mac Davis, country music singer, songwriter for Elvis Presley and actor, dies at 78

Mac Davis — a singer, songwriter and actor who wrote “In The Ghetto” and other classic songs for Elvis Presley before becoming a multitalented star in his own right — died Tuesday at age 78. 

The announcement was made by the Country Music Association, following word from Davis’ manager that he had become “critically ill” after undergoing heart surgery in Nashville.

Born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Davis wrote “In The Ghetto” and other classic songs for Elvis Presley before becoming a multitalented star in his own right. His string of songs with Presley began in 1968 with “A Little Less Conversation,” followed by “Memories,” “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry, Daddy.”

In “Ghetto,” Davis said he wanted to write about a “vicious circle,” and “parts of urban areas where poor people were living and couldn’t get out. They were stuck there, and everybody took off to the suburbs.” 

“I grew up with a little kid whose daddy worked with my daddy, and he was a Black kid,” Davis said in a 2014 interview with The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.

“…I remember him being one of my best buddies. But he lived in a (bad) part of town, and I couldn’t figure out why they had to live where they lived, and we got to live where we lived.”

Mac Davis performs at the 63rd annual BMI Country Awards on Nov. 3, 2015, in Nashville.

Following those and big cuts with other stars — including the Bobby Goldsboro hit “Watching Scotty Grow” — Davis found his own success as a recording artist with the 1972 chart-topper “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and the easy listening No. 1 “Stop And Smell The Roses” in 1974.

The latter year was a pivotal one for Davis, as he was named the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year, and began hosting his own variety show on NBC. “The Mac Davis Show” ran for two seasons, and Davis continued to star in Christmas specials on a near-annual basis through 1983.

Davis made his film debut in 1979, starring alongside Nick Nolte in the comedy “North Dallas Forty.” It was a modest hit, but his next two vehicles, “Cheaper To Keep Her” and “The Sting II,” didn’t fare well at the box office.

He has continued to take small roles in television and film, making appearances on “That ’70s Show,” “King of the Hill,” “8 Simple Rules” and Dolly Parton’s 2019 “Heartstrings” Netflix series.

More:Dolly Parton sends prayers to ‘critically ill’ singer Mac Davis after heart surgery

In the 1980s, Davis the musician began finding more success in the country format, with hits including “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” “Hooked On Music” and “I Never Made Love (Till I Made It with You),” which became his final Top 10 hit in 1985. 

In a statement, country star Kenny Chesney called Davis “a small town boy who’d achieved the greatest kinds of fame, (and) remained a good guy, a family man.”

“…And Mac, who was joyous, funny and created a family around him, never stopped writing great songs, creating music and inspiring everyone around him.”

And as a songwriter, Davis continued to enter new arenas well into the 21st century. A 2002 remix of “A Little Less Conversation” by Junkie XL became a global smash, as well as Presley’s 31st No. 1 hit.

Davis later became a unlikely collaborator with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii, co-writing the 2013 dance-pop hit “Addicted To You,” and even lending his vocals to an unreleased track, “Black and Blue.”

“He comes from an era that really doesn’t exist anymore, especially in lyrics,” Avicii told Rolling Stone in 2013.

“It’s so amazing the place he took (‘Addicted’). I just met him and he played it on guitar, a song he had from before, and then we switched it around a hundred percent. But we kept like the vibe of his lyrics. It sounds like a classic.”

ELVIS ALL-STAR TRIBUTE -- "Show" -- Pictured: (l-r) Mac Davis, John Legend -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Millions of Americans saw Davis back on television last year for NBC’s “Elvis All-Star Tribute,” performing “Memories” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Presley’s 1968 “comeback” special.

In statement, CMA CEO Sarah Trahern called Davis “an amazing entertainer, songwriter and artist.”

“I remember watching Mac’s TV show as a kid as well as his three years co-hosting the CMA Awards with Barbara Mandrell, which proved his command of the TV medium as well as the music. Personally, though, I am saddened to recall a wonderful day spent with Mac and his wife Lise Gerard at our CMA Songwriters Series show at the Library of Congress just a few years ago. He held command of the room backstage with lively stories and a genuine love of the craft of storytelling. When he performed “In the Ghetto” that night, fellow songwriter Pam Tillis pointed out that sadly the song is as pertinent today as it was when Mac wrote it in the late 1960s. His timeless artistry will be sorely missed.”

Davis is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000. 

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