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Local fans recall legend Chris LeDoux
By Cara Eastwood
rep4@wyomingnews.com
Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE - In his lyrics and in his life, country music singer Chris LeDoux showed the world the best of Wyoming.

He sang songs that rang true with fans around the world, songs about prairie sunsets, the thrill of bronc riding and the quiet comfort of an old hat.

But those in Wyoming loved him best, his fans in Cheyenne said Wednesday after learning that he had died in Casper of complications of liver cancer.

LeDoux's ties to Cheyenne reach back to the 1960s, when he moved here with his family and attended Central High.

As an all-conference football player, LeDoux helped lead Central to the state championships in 1966. That was just a few months before he won the bareback title in the Wyoming High School Rodeo Finals in 1967.

Instead of accepting a football scholarship after high school, LeDoux followed his rodeo dreams to Casper College.

While in college he spent his summers living with a friend in Kaycee and traveling the rodeo circuit. In 2001, LeDoux told a WTE reporter that he made extra money pitching hay.

But he soon began winning as a bareback rider, and in 1976 he became a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion.

Cheyenne Frontier Days played an important role in furthering LeDoux's early music career, said John Tabor, Contract Acts Committee chairman.

"He would make his own cassettes and sell them under the stands," Tabor said, "He sang about the cowboys he knew and the life he knew, and if you didn't like it, that was fine."

LeDoux's career gradually began to take off, and when he finally appeared at CFD as a headlining act, "he was crying when he walked on stage," Tabor recalled.

Last year LeDoux was inducted into the CFD Hall of Fame.

But despite making numerous hit records and becoming one of country music's most beloved artists, LeDoux never moved to Nashville. He and his wife, Peggy, and their children Clay, Ned, Will, Cindy and Beau continued to live on their ranch in Kaycee.

"He never would take pictures with female fans out of respect to his wife," Tabor said. "He believed in family values and in the cowboy way of life. He lived it up until (Wednesday)."

When LeDoux needed a location to shoot a video for the song "Horsepower" in 2003, his label contacted the Terry Bison Ranch.

"He is a very quiet and humble person, and he was the kind of guy everyone claims to know," ranch manager Dan Thiel said.

Unlike other entertainers who visit the ranch and park their tour buses in the RV lot there, Thiel said LeDoux always put his bus right next to the horse barn.

"I think it was a place where he could relax," Thiel said.

While LeDoux was filming the video, Thiel said he selected a group of gentle horses to choose from, assuming that since the singer was recovering from a liver transplant that he would appreciate a gentler mount.

But when LeDoux saw the horses, he wasn't satisfied.

"He went out and chose a real spirited horse and then pulled his own saddle out of his bus," Thiel said. "I knew he was a really tough guy when I saw that."

In the summer of 2000, LeDoux had begun to experience health problems due to a condition called primary sclerosing cholangitis that caused damage to his liver. Later that year he underwent a transplant that caused him to cancel much of his tour.

But by the summer of 2001, LeDoux was back to performing and played at CFD.

His apparent healthy recovery is what makes his sudden passing such a shock, Mike Reiff said on Wednesday.

"I knew he was sick, but not that he was that sick," Reiff said. "He was a real cowboy, just a good, good guy. There were no airs about him," he said sadly as he sipped a drink at the Outlaw Saloon.

Layton Morgan, a former chairman of the CFD Contract Acts Committee, said he remembers when his youngest daughter used to sneak into the Hitching Post to hear LeDoux play, although she wasn't old enough to be there.

"Even back then when he was unknown, the young kids thought he was fantastic," Morgan said. "How far he's come since then. It's a great loss for the music industry and Wyoming."

Many people in Cheyenne knew LeDoux personally since he went to high school here, and the singer was never one to let fame get in the way of friendships, Morgan said.

"If he knew you, he didn't forget you. He was just that kind of person," he added.