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Fans remember Wyo favorite son LeDoux
By ROBERT W. BLACK - Associated Press writer

CHEYENNE -- Busting a wild bronc, sleeping under a prairie moon, watching eagles soar over the Rockies, steering a dusty pickup toward the next rodeo.

Chris LeDoux's songs embody the Western cowboy lifestyle, and a day after his death, fans and friends reflected on the messages and morals woven into the bareback champion and singer's unique blend of rock and country.

The 56-year-old entertainer, who lived near the tiny ranching community of Kaycee, lost his battle with liver cancer Wednesday.

His body was cremated Thursday.

Bustard's Funeral Directors and Cremation Service in Casper is handling arrangements. No date had been set for services, which likely will be invitation-only at the family ranch, said Sandra Davidson, a secretary at the funeral home.

In Cheyenne, fans warmly remembered LeDoux, a high school football and rodeo hero who loved to perform at "The Daddy of 'em All," the annual 10-day celebration of the West better known as Cheyenne Frontier Days.

"He seemed to be just a hometown boy," said Pat Nickeson, who vividly remembers a LeDoux concert she attended in Denver.

"It was so electrifying," she said. "He just got the crowd into the show. It was upbeat."

Nickeson also likes the virtues LeDoux sang about.

"Very good messages," she said. "I think it applied to the way he lived his life."

Although he was born in Mississippi and spent some youthful years in Texas, LeDoux has strong ties to Cheyenne, where he graduated from Central High and laid claim to the Wyoming high school bareback bronc riding crown.

His amateur success catapulted him to a stellar pro career, and in 1976, he won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's world bareback title.

"Everybody liked him," said Joe Alexander, a fellow rodeo legend who grew up near Cora and traveled with LeDoux during those early years. "He was good to be around. He wasn't drinking and loud and anything like that. He was always under control."

Alexander, who now lives near Marysville, Calif., said LeDoux's songs about life on the rodeo circuit sprang from real-life experience, and he remembered one particular visit to a cafe in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

"He ordered a cup of hot water and some crackers, and then he grabbed the ketchup bottle and dumped it in there and said 'tomato soup,"' Alexander recalled.

Even for LeDoux's cowboy friends, who were just as broke at the time, it was too much.

"When Chris did that, they grabbed their plates and moved to another table," Alexander said with a laugh.

Writing songs and singing were always in LeDoux's blood, and entertaining left him with fewer broken bones than riding horses.

After struggling as a recording artist for years, LeDoux caught a huge break when Garth Brooks mentioned a "worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux" in a rodeo song that has become a classic, "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)."

LeDoux's career took off, with 5 million albums sold and counting.

His music ranges from flat-out patriotic -- "I Believe in America" proclaims "This country she ain't perfect, but thank God she's still free" -- to humorous: "Five Dollar Fine" tells of the penalty in a honky tonk for whining over one's beer.

But most of his songs evoke the independence of the American cowboy, whether it's stretching a barbed-wire fence, herding cattle through a sagebrush canyon or climbing aboard a snorting bronc.

"You ain't lived until you've watched those northern lights/Set around the campfire and hear the coyotes call at night/Makes you feel alright. ... When I die you can bury me beneath these western skies."

LeDoux leaves behind his mother, Bonnie; his wife of 33 years, Peggy; and their children, Clay, Ned, Will, Cindy and Beau.

"Heaven just got a great person and a great singer," said Ike Sankey, of Joliet, Mont., a former rodeo travel companion.

LeDoux items popular on eBay

Fans of Chris LeDoux flocked to eBay looking for memorabilia on Thursday, a day after the Kaycee cowboy and singer died at a Casper hospital due to complications from liver cancer.

By 7 p.m. nearly 250 items were listed on the Internet auction site, ranging from CDs and signed photographs to magnets and guitar picks.

Many of LeDoux's early albums were originally available only on vinyl and 8-track tape, and re-released CD versions were going for prime prices Thursday. One, a copy of the singer's "Songbook for the American West," fetched $102.50 for a Texas seller who had listed many LeDoux items within the past 24 hours.

A signed photograph of the former rodeo champion -- with a "certificate of authenticity" -- sold for $168.50, while a rare signed concert crew pass went to a lucky winner who bid $113.

A six-CD set of LeDoux's work sold for as much as $153.50, while a single guitar pick used by the artist sold for $51. The most expensive item was a signed acoustic guitar that had a high bid of $290, with more than two days left to go for the auction.

Several copies of a book about LeDoux called "Gold Medal Dreams" were available in the $25 to $35 range.

-- Kerry Drake

Star-Tribune staff write