Roy Rogers, 1911-1998

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LOS ANGELES: Roy Rogers was "King of the Cowboys" when cowboys sang and played guitar, when they rode all day and came home clean, soiled by neither dust nor sweat. When, rather than reveling in bloodshed, Clint-like, they simply shot the gun out of the villain's hand. By the time Roy Rogers -- husband to Dale Evans, rider of Trigger and friend to Gabby Hayes -- died Monday of heart failure at the age of 86, a lot had changed in Hollywood's Old West.

But Roy hadn't. He still believed in fighting fair and bloodless -- "I don't believe this kind of thing [the violent Western] is 'entertainment' no matter how you look at it" -- and he still sang the old country songs, releasing an album of old and new material in 1991 that featured country superstar Clint Black on a cut.

Children and adults alike bought Roy Rogers -- born Leonard Slye, of American Indian extraction, ironically -- as a Hollywood cowboy for two decades, and as a traveling icon of museums and rodeos for years after that. They came to see that palomino Trigger, famously stuffed after the horse's death in 1965 because Rogers "just didn't have the heart to put him in the ground." (Bullet received no such honor.) And to this day they eat at the restaurant chain that bears his name. Why did Roy Rogers endure? Probably because he always stayed clean. He married frequent costar Dale Evans in 1947, weathered the tragic loss of children in private, spoke at some of Billy Graham's revivals. He was lifelong friends with rival Gene Autry after supplanting him at Republic Pictures. Now that Roy Rogers has ridden into the sunset, it's easy to figure out why he was so well-loved: He never took off the white hat. Happy trails, Roy.