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Ray, Johnnie (1927-1990)  
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Once again Kilgallen was at his side, but this time so was Bill Franklin, who had worked in public relations in the entertainment industry before becoming Ray's manager and also his lover.

The relationship with Franklin gave Ray's personal life a stability that it had lacked for many years. With Franklin's encouragement, he started paying attention to proper nutrition and swore off drinking.

In the mid-1960s Ray faced a serious financial problem: due to previous mismanagement he owed a substantial sum to the Internal Revenue Service. Paying the back taxes took him years.

The 1959 arrest and widely disseminated gossip about Ray's homosexuality took a toll on his popularity, and contributed to the decline of his career, especially in the United States. Ray continued to play club dates in the U.S., though at increasingly less prestigious venues, and did regular concert tours in Britain, where he remained a headliner. In the spring of 1969 he undertook a Scandinavian tour with Judy Garland, but she was by then so debilitated that she could barely perform, and the project was soon abandoned.

Eventually Ray started drinking again. Despite Franklin's efforts to limit his intake of alcohol, he reverted to his old ways. His career, already in decline, suffered further, although he could still draw adoring crowds in England and Australia.

Franklin, frustrated by Ray's self-destructive behavior, left him in 1977.

Even as his health deteriorated, Ray kept up a busy schedule of performances, including frequent tours in Australia and Britain.

The concert that would be Ray's last took him home to Portland, where he did a benefit for the Center for the Performing Arts in October 1989. Afterward he went back to Los Angeles, where he became reclusive and withdrawn. He was malnourished and seriously ill with liver disease. To cope with his pain, he was using, in addition to alcohol, the tranquilizer Halcion.

Ray was soon hospitalized. He lapsed into a coma for a few days; although he came out of the coma, he had no chance of recovery from the liver disease. He died on February 24, 1990.

Despite his great popularity in the 1950s, Ray was largely overshadowed by the pop and rock stars who followed him, but he was not entirely forgotten. Dexy's Midnight Runners began their 1983 hit song "Come On, Eileen" with the lines "Poor old Johnnie Ray / Sounded sad on the radio / Broke a billion hearts in mono." Ray's name is also included in the eclectic list in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" (1989).

In 1998 Columbia Records released a CD, The Real Johnnie Ray, featuring many of his classic songs, including some recorded live in concert while fans screamed with delight.

Linda Rapp

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Johnnie Ray International Fan Site.

Rohan, Brian. "Poor Old Johnnie Ray." Irish Voice 12.17 (New York) (April 28, 1998): 20.

Whiteside, Jonny. Cry: The Johnnie Ray Story. New York: Barricade Books, 1994.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Ray, Johnnie  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated September 23, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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