Longtime Branson entertainer Joey Riley, 43, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last week and is recovering from surgery in a Springfield hospital, after his first round of surgery to remove cancerous tumors from his colon.
“When he first found out, of course, he was devastated, and wasn’t really in a fight mode,” said childhood friend and fellow entertainer Clay Cooper as he sat in Riley’s hospital room. “I’m here to help him however I can. I mean, we were born and raised in the same hometown, we were in kindergarten together all the way through high school, then we started playing music together. We’ve been friends pretty much since we could walk.”
In addition to having tumors on his colon, Riley’s cancer has also spread to his liver and lymph nodes.
“There are just a few spots on his liver, but the surgery was strictly to remove the tumors from the colon,” said Regina Landry, Riley’s manager. “Ironically, he starts chemotherapy April 15, which was supposed to be his opening day of shows.”
Despite the fact Riley knows he has the fight of his life on his hands, he is staying positive.
“Where he is, and what he knows he is up against, he seems to be really positive,” Cooper said. “I mean, seven days ago he was normal Joey doing shows with me, and now, he’s got this going on. He is doing well, all things considered.”
Riley is scheduled to remain in the hospital for four to five days. Landry said Riley is doing what he can to keep the whole thing in perspective.
“He is in very good spirits,” Landry said. “After he had his meds, he had me put the little blue surgery hat on and take pictures.”
While Riley is known for keeping the mood light, he did issue a statement shortly before surgery.
“The music industry has been real good to me throughout the years,” Riley said. “I’ve been blessed. But I’m not ready to give up yet.”
Riley lost his mother last May to leukemia, followed by his beloved English bulldog Leroy in August.
“Maybe all his recent losses and trials help him deal with this,” Landry said. “He’s ready to kick this thing’s butt, that’s for sure.”
Riley was born and raised in Wylie, Texas, and got his start in his parents’ music venue, the Wylie Opry, which they built so he and his brother, Scott, could have a family-friendly environment in which to perform. After a couple years, he found his way to Branson, where he joined the Texas Goldminors.
Mickey Gilley happened to be in the audience one day and asked Riley to join his show. He stayed by Gilley’s side for more than 20 years. Riley is well known as a steel guitarist, fiddle player and comedic sidekick.
Riley, like many entertainers, does not have health insurance. Several benefit shows are being planned and an account has been set up for anyone wishing to make a donation.
“We’re doing a fundraiser at my theater on Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m.,” Cooper said. “Of course, Mickey Gilley and many other performers will be there, and we’re going to help him do anything he can to live through this. The last thing someone in this position needs to worry about is money, and we’re going to do anything we can to help.”
For those wishing to make donations, checks may be made out to Benefit Fund of Joey Riley and dropped off at the Bank of Missouri, at 800 Hwy. 248, Suite B, in Branson. Cards and letters may be sent to Joey Riley, in care of Chuck Landry, at 904 Hawthorn, Branson, MO 65616.
“He’s extremely strong and positive for what he’s up against,” Cooper said. “It is what it is, and he said all he can do is to try and walk a mile today, then two miles tomorrow, then three the next. He, and we, need everyone’s prayers and positive thoughts.”
For tickets to the benefit, call 417-332-2529.