Two years after an accident that could have left part of his body permanently paralyzed, country singer Mickey Gilley has made a lot of progress in his recovery and regained his independence, which is important to him.
“I’m still doing therapy on my left side,” said Gilley, 75, during an interview at his theater Wednesday. “I’m a long way from being as strong as I used to be, but I’ve improved a lot. I can do a lot of things now that somebody had to do for me before.”
In 2009, Gilley damaged four disks in his back when he fell off a porch while helping a friend move a couch in the Point Royale neighborhood. He underwent several surgeries and other treatments, but Gilley said doctors told him at the time his left side could be permanently paralyzed and he may never walk again.
“Now, I can walk up to a half-mile at a time,” Gilley said.
But he’s not stopping there. He next hopes to regain two of his loves — playing piano and hitting the links.
“Those are two of my favorite things in the world,” Gilley said. “Music and golf have been my life for the last 50 years.”
He said he hopes to be able to start golf again this spring. That depends on regaining enough strength to swing the clubs.
He didn’t have a timetable for when he might be able to play piano again. Still, he remains optimistic.
“I’m thinking I will be able to get to where I can play piano again,” he said.
Gilley still performs regularly in Branson, singing some of his 17 chart-topping country hits with the accompaniment of a live band, including a pianist. His season starts April 1.
“I enjoy singing. I enjoy people. I love what I do,” he said.
Gilley said his vocals are as strong as ever, with some guests even saying he sounds better now that he’s not singing and playing at the same time.
He said one thing he’s gained from the fall is a renewed appreciation for life.
“Every day I wake up, I appreciate that I’m alive and can do what I want to do,” he said. “I wouldn’t complain if my life ended tomorrow. It’s been a great ride.”
Gilley, who is a cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl McVoy, Jim Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart, has been singing and playing music since he was a child.
He enjoyed his greatest professional success in the ’70s and ’80s and is also known for founding the famous Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, Texas.
He’s performed in Branson since 1989 and rebuilt and rechristened the Mickey Gilley Theatre in 1992 following a fire.
This year, Gilley is sharing the theater with the a cappella group Six, comprised of six of the 10 Knudsen brothers. Gilley said the group has agreed to lease the venue for three years, with an option to buy at the end of the contract.
If the brothers do buy it, he said he would like to continue to perform there, if they would like to have him.
“Retirement is not in my vocabulary,” he said. “I want to perform until the day I die.”
Six and Gilley are jointly investing an estimated $500,000 in the theater this year in preparation for the group’s debut there, which is set for March 1. The renovations include lighting and sound upgrades, stage additions and a new paint job on the theater’s exterior.
“Six is one of the hottest tickets in Branson,” Gilley said. “It ought to be a very interesting show here.”