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Riley loses battle with cancer

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 1:51 pm

Branson entertainer Joey Riley, who was diagnosed with cancer this spring, died early Friday morning.

“It is with the deepest sadness that I inform all of Joey’s fans, supporters and friends that Joey passed away last night,” a post on his Facebook page stated.

“He went to Heaven peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by those who loved him. He will be missed by many, but we know he is in a better place, reunited with his mother and father and those who have gone before him.

“The Riley family can’t thank everyone enough for all the love, support and kindness you have showed us during this trying time. Details about services will be shared as soon as arrangements are made.”

Riley, 43, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in late March. He underwent several surgeries, as well as chemotherapy treatments. Riley was placed in hospice care last week, but according to his manager Regina Landry, his last day was one she won’t forget.

“We had a really good day,” she said. “Clay Cooper was there and he got out a guitar to play and sing. Then Joey grabbed the guitar and wanted to play. It was very awesome.”

Riley, long known as one of the area’s popular performers, first came to Branson more than 20 years ago. He was born and raised in Wylie, Texas, and got his start in his parents’ music venue, the Wylie Opry. They built the venue so he and his brother, Scott, could have a family-friendly environment in which to perform, Riley shared during a past interview.

He was an accomplished fiddle and steel guitar player, as well as a comedian. After several years of performing, Riley found his way to Branson, where he joined the Texas Goldminors alongside longtime friend Clay Cooper.

It just so happened that country music singer Mickey Gilley was in the audience one day and asked Riley to join his show. Together, the duo redefined the Branson show, and Riley stayed by Gilley’s side for more than 20 years.

“There were other shows in town with comedians but not with a headliner like Gilley who allowed someone to make light of him and poke a little fun,” said “Mickey Gilley Show” Director of Sales and Marketing Gary Carlson. “I always summed Gilley and Joey up as a sober Dean Martin and a drunk Jerry Lewis. They were a great duo, that’s for sure.”

As news of Riley’s death broke, his friends and family received an outpouring of emotion.

“People from all over the country are calling, texting and sending messages,” Landry said. “Literally, thousands of people have reached out. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody.”

Several years ago, Riley began performing his own show and would close every single performance, without fail, by saying something that Landry feels best sums up his career, as well as his legacy.

“I’ve never wanted to be known as a comedian, I’ve never wanted to be known as a singer, and I’ve never wanted to be known as a musician,” he would say. “I only wanted to be known as an entertainer, and I hope we’ve done that for you today.”

No details regarding services were available at press time, but a public memorial service is in the works and should be announced soon.

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