Rex Allen was one of the top singing cowboys from the early 1950s. Once that genre faded, he went on to fashion a strong career as a narrator for Walt Disney's animated and nature films.
As a child in Willcox, Ariz., where he grew up on a ranch, Allen began performing well before his teenage years, singing and playing guitar with his fiddle playing father at local dances.
Allen's voice had an easy lilt to it and was immediately popular. His big break came just after World War II, when he became a featured performer on "The National Barn Dance," which was then the most popular radio program in the nation.
Based on his radio performances in Chicago, he was signed to a contract with Mercury Records. He wrote nearly 300 songs in his long career, and some of his recorded hits included "Streets of Laredo," "Crying in the Chapel" and "I Won't Need My Six-Gun in Heaven."
Hollywood, in the form of Republic Pictures, drew Allen to the West again. Starting in 1950, he made 19 films for the studio. His costars in these B movies often included Slim Pickens, who later rode the bomb to glory in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," and Buddy Ebsen, who struck gold as Jed Clampett on TV's "The Beverly Hillbillies." And there was Allen's faithful stallion Ko-Ko, who was added in his second film, "The Hills of Oklahoma."
Allen was the No. 1 box-office western star in 1953-54 and went on to become the No. 3 all-time moneymaker in this genre, behind Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. But Allen's career started to decline in 1954 as rising production costs and the emergence of television rendered such titles no longer profitable.
Allen went on to make appearances on country and western variety shows over the next two decades and was once asked the difference between the two styles of music.
"Country is like when you go down to the jail to pick up your mother or your grandma or something because she was drunk and was throwin' bottles at the pigs," Allen told a television interviewer. "Western songs are about nature, cattle, ranching and that kind of thing—but there are no three-way love affairs in them."
When he died at the age of 78 in 1999, after his caretaker accidentally struck him with a car, he was believed to be the last of the high-profile singing cowboys.