Mac Davis, singer, actor and TV variety show host, dies at 78

Mac Davis, the singer-songwriter who parlayed pop and country hits into a network TV variety show and acting career, has died. He was 78.

His manager of nearly four decades, Jim Morey, announced Davis’ death on Facebook Tuesday night. “He was a music legend but his most important work was that as a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend,” Morey wrote. “I will miss laughing about our many adventures on the road and his insightful sense of humor.” The Country Music Association later confirmed the news.

Davis’ family had released a statement Monday through his management, saying, “We are sorry to report that legendary singer/songwriter Mac Davis is critically ill following heart surgery in Nashville. Your love and prayers will be deeply appreciated at this time. #prayformacdavis”

Davis became known as the songwriter behind the Elvis Presley hits “In the Ghetto,” “A Little Less Conversation” and “Memories” before reaching No. 1 himself on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” in 1971. He soon parlayed his pop success into a career based more in country music and was named entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 1974.

Davis’ sex appeal and easy charm made him a favorite on the talk show circuit, and he was rewarded with his own NBC variety series, “The Mac Davis Show,” from 1974-76, followed by annual network Christmas specials that spanned well into the ’80s. He even had a brief span as a leading man in feature films, peaking right out of the gate as Nick Nolte’s fellow leading man in the 1979 football drama “North Dallas Forty.”

After that successful kickoff to his acting career, Davis was less successful as a solo romantic lead in 1981’s “Cheaper to Keep Her” and as a card shark opposite Jackie Gleason in the ill-fated “The Sting II,” which carried over none of the cast from the original film. After those two theatrical flops, Davis moved on mostly to appearing in TV movies and episodic shows, from “Webster” and “Lois & Clark” to a five-episode voice acting run on “King of the Hill” as Sheriff Buford and “Sports Jock.” HIs last screen role was as Reverend Riggs in 2019’s “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” the show produced by his friend and fellow country star of many decades.

Davis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

His roots as a songwriter were celebrated when the publishing rights organization BMI gave him its lifetime achievement honor, the Icon award, at its annual Nashville-based country awards show in 2015.

Davis played with Nancy Sinatra on stage and on record in the late 1960s, and it was her publishing company, Boots, that published the hits he wrote for Presley.

After “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” Davis had three more singles reach the top 20 in 1974-75: “One Hell of a Woman,” “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life).” Among those, “Roses” reached No. 9 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Ironically, although he would ultimately become best known as a country singer, he struck out in that format throughout the ’70s and didn’t have a real hit in the genre until he scored four top 10 hits in a row in 1980-81, with “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” “Let’s Keep It That Way,” “Texas in My Rearview Mirror” and “Hooked on Music,” his biggest country hit at No. 2. His sixth and last country top 10 hit, “I Never Made Love (Til I Made It With You),” arrived in 1985.

His last album, “Will Write Songs for Food,” came out in 1994 and featured a duet with Dolly Parton as well as recreations of past songwriting triumphs like “In the Ghetto.”

Davis had recently taped an episode of “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” in which he discussed the breadth of his career in Hollywood and Nashville. It premiered only last month.