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Mickey Gilley overcomes odds: Exclusive interview by Jenn Findley

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The graciousness of his voice took me aback at first. He said to call him “Mickey”, not “Mr. Gilley” and had a gentle sweet manner about him. He is remarkably uplifting, honest, and open about the facts of his works after the accident that left him a quadriplegic for 9 months.

He dug deep within himself when asked point-blank questions about the accident, the prayers that helped him through it and his sheer determination was hidden by humility, but through his voice, you could hear the spirit shine on. Mickey is a kind soul, and a good man.

Having been a fan for some time, I wanted to know how he overcame such tremendous odds in recent history, as in the past, you can always find the information through research. I wanted the ‘real’ Mickey Gilley ‘to please stand up’. He stood on both legs; strong and capable.

Mickey: “How are you today?”

Jenn: “Oh, I’m doing great. How about yourself?”

Mickey: “Oh, I’m not doing too bad, I’m 78 years old and I still be kicking. Going out there on the road, for the people…it’s been a blast.”

We chatted a bit about music and I refocused the conversation to the accident he had, so others could be inspired by this kindred soul.

Jenn: “Now I may focus a bit here on the accident, if that’s okay with you.”

Mickey: “No, that’s fine, anything you ever want to ask Mickey Gilley and was afraid to ask, here’s your shot at me.”

Jenn: “I find this to be an inspiration to others on how you overcame the odds and how you are back on tour again. I really think it may help inspire others to overcome their odds.”

Mickey: “Well, I tell you what, I hope I can lend encouragement to others that are in a wheelchair because I know what it’s like to be in one. I learned to appreciate the fact that the handicapped stickers around town, you know, for parking at places and things like that, I know now what it’s like when you’re handicapped.”

“I was in one for about 9 months. I am telling you, it’s not a good place to be when you’re a ‘dooer’ and you like to do things; especially I love to play golf. I’m back on my legs now and I’m walking, so I’m very excited about that.”

Jenn: “So, you had said ‘I don’t know whether I’ll get back year because I am not able to walk yet.’ This is back, again, at the time of the accident. And you said, ‘but hopefully I’ll get back next year’…so what led you to this belief system; that you can do it and you are going to do it [perform] instead of crawling up into a ball, and saying, ‘Forget it’."

Mickey: “Well, when I injured myself, at one point I thought, you know, that this is it. And I told my manager and told him, I said, ‘I’m not going back until I can walk onstage again’."

"The more I thought about it, I thought how selfish that is when the people give me 17 number one songs, and they want to show up to hear me perform the songs, I’m going to get back on the stage if I have to sit in a chair and do it.”

“The first night that I came back to my theater in Brenson, the two ladies that sing with me, they walked me out on stage and sat me in a chair and I started my performance, and who was in the audience? The great Andy Williams."

"And when I saw him out there, if that doesn’t give you enough to kick you in the rear end, get up out of that chair, it’s getting busy, I’m back on my legs, and that was a big encouragement for me.”

Jenn: “That is very very awesome, that’s just inspiring to me and I’m sure it will be inspiring to a lot of people. And when you were asking for prayers, these people that were praying for you, to speed up recovery and have nearly a complete recovery, do you feel that those prayers helped you?”

Mickey: “I think the prayers and I thank the grace of God that I am where I’m at at the present time. And I keep saying, ‘I’m going to make it back to normal’, but what’s normal for Mickey Gilley is kinda hard to say. I do know that I want to get back on the golf course, so I set two goals for myself."

"I want to play golf in the spring and piano by the fall. My hands haven’t returned, I’m still in therapy for my left side, but I think that I’m going to make it back to full recovery in a matter of time.”

Jenn: “Excellent. So you think that maybe by the end of the year that you’re going to be playing the piano.”

Mickey: “I’m working on it as hard as I can.”

Jenn: “My prayers are sent out to you for that to happen, and I pray you will.”

Mickey: “I don’t know if I’ll be as good as I once was, but if I can just get back and play a few songs, ballads, it’ll accomplish what I’m dreaming and hoping for.”

Jenn: “Great. Do you think that this whole experience has made you a stronger person; a stronger musician?”

Mickey: “I think it’s made me a better person. I do know that I made this statement a couple times, people ask me about my recordings, I got a chance to talk to the guy who did my hits in the 80’s, he took me out of the shadow of my cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and his name Jimmy Norman and put me in a category of myself, and gave me an identity of ‘Mickey Gilley’ that I never had before.”

“I told him I said we’ve made some pretty good recordings, back in the 80’s and there are tunes on my albums that never got any exposure, and I was trying to get Sony to re-issue some of them because I found a song I thought was a hit."

"On the ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’ album and he said he would talk to the record company about it and somebody asked me, they said, ‘You know, how does it feel doing all these recordings in the 80’s’ I said, ‘Well, I think I could have had some better records if I had not been on the party mode so much."

"Because I was young, and wild and crazy, and I had a great time, was making great records, was successful."

"I can remember him telling me, ‘Can I have you at 10am in the morning to sing?’ I said, ‘10am? I don’t get to throwing up till noon. And when you think back, if I had been like I am right now, I would have taken better care of myself. I would have went to bed early. Got a good night’s rest. And been there at 10am like he wanted me to and I’d probably have some better records.”

Jenn: “I love your music and your passion behind it. And what matters is your progress. Tell me more about how you’re progressing after overcoming the odds.”

Mickey: “I had people come to me, and they said, well I think he’s singing better now than many hits of the 80’s and I said, ‘Let me tell you something, at the present tiem after the injury, I’m not having to sit at the piano and play so I can concentrate on my vocals more so maybe that’s the reason. And it’s well, maybe that’s true, I don’t know.”

“I’m having a wonderful time singing for the folks. I’m doing four shows a week in my theater [Moon River Theatre] in Branson, [Missouri] and I’m doing the weekends and the people ask me why I do this. And I say ‘For the passion of the music’. And I’m enjoying myself again.”

He certainly is enjoying himself again, and I look forward to his accomplishing the golf course by Spring, and the piano by fall. He’s come all this way, it’s easy to believe.

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