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FANS BID HAPPY TRAILS TO ROGERS AT FUNERAL.

Byline: Cynthia L. Webb Associated Press

Under the hot, windy Western sky, hundreds of Roy Rogers fans streamed into this tumbleweed-strewn desert city Saturday to bid the cowboy crooner happy trails.

They wore cowboy boots and spurs, shorts and T-shirts and formal black attire and listened to the strains of ``Happy Trails'' as they packed the church and lawn, where speakers served an overflow crowd. The 1,800 guests in all laughed, cried and prayed as they honored the ``King of Cowboys'' at a public memorial service at the Church of the Valley.

``There is more to come. This is not the end of the trail, it's the trailhead for the greatest adventure in life,'' said the Rev. William Hansen, who has known the Rogers family for 30 years. ``We can truly say, `Happy trails to you until we meet again.' ''

The singing cowboy and one of the last of the white hats from the golden era of Hollywood westerns died of congestive heart failure Monday in his home 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, where he lived with his wife, Dale Evans, for the past 33 years. He was 86.

Evans, wearing a pink-colored suit as she sat in a wheelchair, and some 85 other family members filled the front pews before an array of colorful flower bouquets and two framed oil paintings of Rogers, one showing Rogers atop his horse and the other a simple portrait of him alone.

His white cowboy hat sat perched on one of the paintings until his son, Roy ``Dusty'' Rogers Jr., grabbed it on his way out of the church and waved to a cheering crowd, who joined the family in a 13-mile procession to the actor's beloved museum in Victorville in 106-degree heat.

There, four horses escorted a white hearse strewn with roses for one final lap around the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum - home to Rogers' stuffed horse Trigger, stuffed dog Bullet and mementos of the couple's lengthy careers. Fans created a makeshift memorial in front of the museum, where a giant statue of Trigger greets guests.

Rogers' career spanned western recordings, 87 western movies - including 26 with Evans - and a 1950s television series that continued in reruns. For 12 years - 1943 to 1954 - he was the No. 1 western star at the box office in a magazine poll of theater operators.

Of Rogers' numerous recordings, his best-known song was ``Happy Trails to You,'' sung over the clippity-clop, bum-bah-dee-dah bass line. The tune, which became his theme song, was co-written by his wife, who was teamed with him in 1944 in ``Cowboy and the Senorita.''

Friends and fans alike remembered Rogers on Saturday as a well-liked, down-to-earth guy.

``He never lost that grip on the reality of who he was, nor did he forget his roots,'' Hansen said. ``He never lost his sense of integrity.''

Lois Reynolds, a resident of nearby Adelanto, said she wouldn't have missed the memorial for anything.

``For those of us living in the High Desert, he was one of us. We let Roy Rogers be himself,'' Reynolds said, recalling seeing the American icon in local restaurants. ``He was the most wonderful human being. He was very special.''

Outside the museum, fans gathered and did an impromptu rendition of ``Happy Trails.'' Professional musicians sang at the funeral. The Sons of the Pioneers, a group Rogers co-founded in the 1930s, sang two songs in his memory - ``Lead Me Gently Home'' and ``His Eyes Are on the Sparrow'' - and played acoustic guitar.

Longtime friends and admirers who were unable to attend mailed letters of condolences to the church, including country singer Clint Black, fellow cowboy Gene Autry and President Clinton.

Nedra McPeters Johnson, 70, came as a fan to remember the actor but also had a personal memory of the crooning cowboy.

Her father, Taylor McPeters, otherwise known as ``Cactus Mack'' in western films, taught Rogers to play the guitar at age 16, when he was still known as Leonard Slye. Their families lived in the same San Fernando Valley neighborhood.

``It means a lot to be here. There's not many of the old cowboys left,'' Johnson said.

After circling the museum, the hearse returned to the church, where the family attended a private service and then planned to follow a horse-drawn hearse to the nearby burial site.

A western-style target shooting group, of which Rogers and Rogers Jr. were members, prepared the burial site. The crew, known as the Single Action Shooting Society, said they dug the grave at Sunset Hills Memorial Park at a family plot.

``I don't think Roy would have wanted it any other way,'' Bryan Burnes, 38, said of the grave digging. ``Everything you heard about him was absolutely true. The twinkle in his eyes was always there.''

A plaque displaying a cowboy prayer was to appear at the grave. The last line

reads: ``Above all else, the happiest trail would be for you to say to me, let's ride, my friend.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1) Dale Evans, widow of cowboy legend Roy Rogers, holds roses in Victorville after his funeral Saturday.

Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

(2) Miranda Clarke waits to enter Roy Rogers' memorial service Saturday in Apple Valley. Rogers died Monday of heart failure.

Susan Sterner/Associated Press
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 12, 1998
Words:878
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