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Cowboy, singer LeDoux dies in Casper
Star-Tribune staff writer with wire reports

Country singer and former rodeo champion Chris LeDoux sits with Kaycee Elementary School students after reading a story during a 'Read Across America' event March 1, 2002. LeDoux died Wednesday from complications from liver cancer. Photo by Dan Cepeda/Casper Star-Tribune.

Chris LeDoux of Kaycee, who first gained fame as a champion in the rodeo arena and then as a country music star, died Wednesday at a Casper hospital of complications from liver cancer. He was 56.

{At the bottom of this page is a Web Extra, a section that did not appear in the Casper Star-Tribune.}

LeDoux, one of the best-known entertainers in Wyoming's history, had battled liver disease for years. In 2000, he underwent a liver transplant, and he was treated for cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer that affects the bile ducts, late last year.

Friends recalled LeDoux as a courageous man who never let his pals down.

"He had more guts and pride than anyone I'd ever known. There was no quit to him," said John Holman of Tracy, Calif., who grew up with LeDoux in Kaycee and later traveled with him to his first National Finals Rodeo.

Holman said he was riding a horse Wednesday when his cousin, Kaycee cowboy John Forbes, called to notify him of their friend's death.

"It about knocked me off my horse," Holman said. "I talked to (LeDoux) about every two weeks and he told me things were going OK."

"Gen-u-ine. He was the real thing," recalled Bruce Ford, a five-time world champion bareback rider from Kersey, Colo., who traveled with LeDoux to rodeos. "There was nothin' phony about Chris. He was a great guy."

Judy McDonough, a spokeswoman for Capitol Nashville, LeDoux's recording company, said he had checked into the Wyoming Medical Center earlier this week following complications from his cancer and was with family and friends at the time of his death.

LeDoux was born in Biloxi, Miss., and raised in Austin, Texas, before moving to Cheyenne during his high school years. He began rodeo competitions at 14 and was bareback champion of the Wyoming High School Rodeo. He went on to attend Casper College, and later Sheridan College and New Mexico State, before pursuing a rodeo career full time.

In 1976, he earned a gold buckle as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback world champion.

Always a music lover, LeDoux retired from the rodeo circuit in 1984 and began focusing on his music career. He recorded 22 albums on his own before signing with Capitol Records in 1991. His albums sold more than 6 million copies, and he was admired by country music stars Garth Brooks and Toby Keith.

TR Wilson, who rode the rodeo circuit with LeDoux from 1968 to 1975 and remained a lifelong friend, recalls Brooks calling after referencing LeDoux in his 1989 hit "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)."

The song included the line, "The worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/seem to be the only friends I've left at all."

"Garth called and told him, 'You can't imagine what that's done for my career,'" Wilson said. "Three or four weeks ago, I was at Chris' house and we were talking about that. He said, 'You can't imagine what it did for my career, Garth.' "

LeDoux and Brooks later teamed up in 1992 for the Grammy-nominated "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy," which was LeDoux's only Top 10 single. LeDoux also performed duets with Toby Keith and Jon Bon Jovi.

Wilson, who now lives in Georgia, said LeDoux was an easy going man with a positive attitude, even while battling liver disease.

"I've never known him to ever be mad at anybody," Wilson said. "He always had a great outlook on life."

Wilson also remembers LeDoux as an independent man who accomplished almost everything he ever tried, be it rodeo, music or everyday life.

"I remember we tried to build him a new house when him and Peggy got married. He wouldn't let anybody else build it," Wilson chuckled. "We used to go deer hunting ... I'd say, 'Let me help you with that,' and he'd say, 'Nah, I'll do it.' 'Course I didn't have anything to do, just sit there bored."

Holman's recollection might surprise LeDoux's fans, but traveling with the rodeo competitor didn't give him an appreciation for his music in the early days of his career.

"I've listened to him so much," Holman said with a laugh. "We used to make him sing in the bathroom, we'd get so sick of listening to him."

LeDoux is survived by his mother, Bonnie; his wife of 33 years, Peggy; his children, Clay, Ned, Will, Beau and Cindy; a large extended family; and many rodeo and music industry friends.

"Me and a lot of other people loved him like a brother," Wilson said. "He was a man among men, and a great example to all young cowboys and young people around the world."

LeDoux moved around a lot because of his father's Air Force career but got hooked on cowboys just like any other American boy.

"I was brainwashed by John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy when I was young," he had said on his Web site. "And, we moved to Texas when I was about 12 and had the opportunity to get in a neighborhood where all the kids had horses and were riding in kids' rodeos.

"I had the opportunity to get on a steer when I was about 13, and loved it. So, I was bit by the bug."

LeDoux was inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame in 2003. He performed six concerts and often competed at the famed rodeo, missing a bareback title by one point in 1974.

"He was country and proud of it," said Ike Sankey, of Joliet, Mont., another former rodeo hand. "He loved riding bucking horses and tried really hard and loved his family."

Web Extra:
In memory of Chris LeDoux

Early in his career, Garth Brooks opened for Chris LeDoux and had this to say about the experience: "I told the guys, ‘We're going to be straight-laced cowboys and pay homage and do that ol' time country show.' We basically stood still and played. Then Chris comes blowing out with a smoking B-3 organ and flashpots -- and the crowd went nuts. We sat their with out mouths open... . He's like a rocker with a cowboy hat on."

"When he blasts onto a stage, it's with the same furious tension as when the chutes used to open for him on a bucking bronc. When he writes songs, he writes and sings about cowboys, rodeos, and wide open spaces. He writes about dusty cowboy hats, worn-out boots, wild horses, lonesome roads, and storm clouds above the timber line. His music is about a world many have only seen in movies and others believe lost to history. He writes about what he knows. He's the real thing, a world champion rodeo rider and a world class entertainer." -- 1994 American Cowboy Collection

"What I want to be known for, on top of everything else, is that I was a good husband and family man." -- Chris LeDoux

1964 Little Britches Rodeo bareback world championship
1967 Wyoming State High School bareback bronc championship
1969 National Intercollegiate bareback riding champion
1976 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback world championship
!984 Retired from rodeo competition

Songs of Rodeo Life (1971)
Rodeo Songs "Old and New" (1973)
Songs of Rodeo and Country (1974)
Rodeo and Living Free (1975)
Life As A Rodeo Man (1975)
Songbook of the American West (1976)
Sing Me a Song, Mr. Rodeo Man (1977)
Cowboys Ain't Easy to Love (1978)
Paint Me Back Home in Wyoming (1979)
Western Tunesmith (1980)
Sounds of the Western Country (1980)
Old Cowboy Heroes (1980)
He Rides the Wild Horses (1981)
Used To Want To Be A Cowboy (1982)
Thirty Dollar Cowboy (1983)
Old Cowboy Classics (1983)
Melodies and Memories (1984)
Wild and Wooly (1986)
Gold Buckle Dreams (1987)
Powder River (1990)
Western Underground (1991)
Chris LeDoux and the Saddle Boogie Band (1991)
Watcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy (1992)
Under This Old Hat (1993)
Haywire (1994)
Gold Buckle Dreams (EMI Special Markets) (1995)
Stampede (1996)
Live (1997)
Rodeo Songs, "Old and New" (EMI Special Markets) (1998)
One Road Man (1998)
Cowboy (two releases: Capitol Nashville and Capitol) (2000)
After the Storm (2004)
20 Originals: The Early Years (2004)
Horsepower (2004)

Compilations and Box Sets:
Radio & Rodeo Hits (1990)
Best of Chris LeDoux (1994)
1972-1994 (1994)
Rodeo Rock and Roll Collection (1995)
20 Greatest Hits (1999)

"Gold Buckle Dreams: The Rodeo Life of Chris LeDoux" by David G. Brown.

Chris LeDoux Albums on Yahoo;; Chris LeDoux Country (; and an interview with Chris LeDoux by Kay McCullough, which was published Nov. 13, 1998, Casper Star-Tribune.

Assistant Managing Editor Kerry Drake contributed to this report.

Staff writer Jenni Dillon can be reached at (307) 266-0619 or