It's been an interesting life. If you think practical,

you can make it through anything.

Roy  Rogers,  June 1996

Rays of early sunlight poured in through a large window, highlighting Roy Rogers's hospital room. The warm July morning revealed a pristine day under a cloudless sky. The fading eighty-six-year-old cowboy glanced around the room at his personal belongings. On a shelf next to a television were videocassettes of some of his western films and episodes of his television show. His cowboy boots waited near a tiny closet in which hung a fringed cowboy shirt and pants. He reverently studied photos of his wife and family smiling radiantly back at him in their best Sunday clothes. Among the pictures was a framed list of the Roy Rogers Riders Club rules.

The Riders Club was a group founded by Rogers for fans who wanted to follow in his footsteps. The club code was simple: "Be courteous and polite, protect the weak and help them, be brave, but never take chances, always respect our flag and country."

Roy lived his life by that code, believing firmly that "it's the way you ride that counts."

The cards and letters from well-wishers that filled the room were a testimony to how many lives Roy Rogers had touched with his heroics both on and off the screen. His loyal fans made him the number one western star for twelve straight years. From 1938 to 1957 boys and girls of all ages flooded into the country's cinemas to watch the ultimate good guy sing his way through danger, capture the heart of the girl, and triumph over evil. Roy Rogers was so popular and so well respected some of his friends in politics asked him to consider running for president.

If the test of a celebrity's greatness is his ability to win and hold a great mass following—Roy Rogers passed that test many times over. Twenty-three years after his last major movie had been released, audiences continued to seek him out and tell him how much they appreciated his positive influence and talent.

Roy stared out the window at the changing colors of the dawn sky, then turned to look into the faces of his children waiting at his bedside. They were worried and anxious about their ailing father. His body was weak, but his spirit was strong. When his time was up, he was confident about going to heaven.


It was his faith that kept his upbeat personality intact during his hospital stay.

Since the death of his son Sandy in 1965, Roy had decided to slow down. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he did so by making rodeo appearances, singing at Billy Graham crusades and the Grand Ole Opry, and doing guest spots on television shows like Hee Haw and The Muppets with Dale. He often joked that as far as he was concerned, he was a retired cowboy, but "nobody will let me get too far from the business." In the limited leisure time he had, he spent time hunting, racing his pigeons, and visiting with his children and grandchildren.

Roy knew he had been so richly blessed. From the early days of his career singing with the Sons of the Pioneers, to the last feature film he starred in 1975—Mackintosh and T J,—Rogers's life's work had left a lasting impression on the public.

He'd had the great pleasure of being able to spend time with sick and orphaned children, travel the world, and speak out for the one who had given him so much. Indeed, to find the legendary cowboy minus his trademark grin was rare.

No doubt his partner on and off the screen could be credited with a great deal of the joy he had known for the last fifty-two years. Dale Evans was an energetic beauty who had captured his heart in 1946 and had been his constant through triumphs and trials.

"We both respect the other's desires," he once told reporters. "Dale knows what makes me tick.... I would be less of a man without her." The couple shared a deep love of children and family. Volume upon volume of books could be written about the life-changing effects they had on hurting and ill children languishing in hospital rooms and orphanages. A visit from the Rogerses lifted hearts and spirits of youngsters convinced they were alone and without hope. Such an impact prompted many physicians and hospital staff to refer to the pair as great humanitarians.

An American flag flapping in the breeze outside Roy's window caught his eye, perhaps reminding him of his love for his country. Throughout his career he had expressed his appreciation to be living in freedom and for the men and women who fought to make that possible. During World War II Roy had done his part to support the United States. Classified as 4-A and prohibited from joining the military, Roy supported the troops by participating in countless USO shows and selling millions of dollars' worth of war bonds.

Roy closed his eyes, the sound of the flag popping in the wind lulling him to sleep. It was 4:15 a.m., July 6,1998. He took a breath. The slow expansion of his lungs was accompanied by a deep sigh, and then he slipped quickly from this world.

Network and cable news stations announced the death of Roy Rogers around the clock. Documentaries about the cowboy, as well as his films, were broadcast continually. Extra editions of newspapers, featuring articles about his life and passing, were printed in cities and towns across his home state of Ohio and in Victorville, California.

In Rogers's memory California state senators and assemblymen adjourned for the day and flags were hung at half staff.

Within the first twenty-four hours after Roy Rogers died of congestive heart failure, the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum received more than five thousand e-mails from fans around the world. Flowers flooded the lobby of the building, and mourners from as far away as Ireland came to pay their respects. Foreign dignitaries and U.S. politicians expressed their sorrow over Roy's death—making personal statements about the cowboy in interviews. Said President Bill Clinton, "I really appreciate what he stood for, the movies he made and the kind of values they embodied." Ronald Reagan added, "Rogers was a true American icon who delighted millions with his incredible ability to perform. Hollywood and the world will miss the talents of this legendary cowboy."

The halls of the Church of the Valley in Apple Valley, California, were filled to overflowing with sad followers of the King of the Cowboys. Roy "Dusty" Rogers Jr. spoke to those gathered at the public service and encouraged them to "look back on my father's career as a celebration of his life." As the mourners filed out of the sanctuary, they paused to comment on the life of the western star.

"He was more than a hero—he was everybody's friend," said fan Lorene Koch.

"He was the quintessential community icon," noted Bruce Williams, Apple Valley town manager.

At a private ceremony at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, Roy's family and close friends stood around the grave site. Dale Evans, bound to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke, was led to her husband's casket, which was covered with red carnations. Her face was wet with tears as she added another flower to the mix.

Members of the Sons of the Pioneers sang "Amazing Grace" as Roy and Dale's children looked on, sobbing. A hush then fell over the grounds. The only sound that could be heard was the jingling spurs on the boots of the cowboys in attendance, and the snorting of a posse of horses nearby.

Butterflies drifted in and out of the pitches of light and shade of the lowering sun. The horizon range grew darker, tinted with rose and gold. It was the general consensus there that sunsets in Apple Valley would be even more spectacular now that Roy Rogers was a part of their beauty.