Mac Davis, Singer, Songwriter and ‘North Dallas Forty’ Actor, Dies at 78

He wrote hits for Elvis, had his own No. 1 with “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” and hosted an NBC variety show.

Mac Davis, the genial singer-songwriter who had a No. 1 hit with “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” penned Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” and “In the Ghetto” and starred in the football film North Dallas Forty, has died. He was 78.

Davis died Tuesday in Nashville following heart surgery, his longtime manager Jim Morey said in a news release. His family had reported Monday that he was “critically ill” following the surgery.

“Mac Davis has been my client for over 40 years, and more importantly, my best friend,” Morey said. “He was a music legend, but his most important work was that as a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. I will miss laughing about our many adventures on the road and his insightful sense of humor.”

Davis also performed with Nancy Sinatra, hosted an NBC variety show for three seasons in the mid-1970s and starred on Broadway in 1992 as the title character in The Will Rogers Follies, followed by a national tour.

A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the curly-haired Texan co-wrote “A Little Less Conversation,” which Presley performed in Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). A remixed version became a worldwide hit in 2003.

In his comeback year of 1969, Presley recorded “In the Ghetto,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and another Davis song, “Don’t Cry Daddy,” which made it to No. 6.

Davis was signed by Clive Davis at Columbia Records in 1970, and “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” from his third album, spent three weeks atop the Billboard 100 in 1972. He also was in the running for a Grammy for best pop male vocal performance, one of his three career Grammy noms.

A crossover success in country and pop, Davis played guitar and scored with tunes including “One Hell of a Woman,” “Stop and Smell the Roses,” “I Believe in Music” — his signature song — “Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)” and the light-hearted “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Something’s Burning”), Bobby Goldsboro (“Watching Scotty Grow”), Lou Rawls (“You’re Good for Me”), Dolly Parton (“Slow Dancing With the Moon”), Rascal Flatts (“Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me”) and Glen Campbell were among the artists who also recorded his songs.

More recently, the enduring Davis co-wrote tunes with Avicii (“Addicted to You”), Bruno Mars (“Young Girls”) and Rivers Cuomo (“Time Flies”) of Weezer.

In his feature film debut, Davis starred as charismatic quarterback Seth Maxwell in the cynical North Dallas Forty (1979), directed by Ted Kotcheff and based on a 1973 novel written by former NFL player Peter Gent.

Davis shared great chemistry with Nick Nolte in the film, and his character was said to be based on fun-loving Dallas Cowboys QB Don Meredith. Later, he starred in other movies including Cheaper to Keep Her (1981), The Sting II (1983) and Possums (1998) and recurred as Rodney Carrington’s father-in-law on the 2004-06 ABC sitcom Rodney.

His last appearance as an actor came in Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings series for Netflix last year.

The son of a building contractor, Morris Mac Davis was born on Jan. 21, 1942, in Lubbock, Texas. He said he used to go to the local roller-skating rink to watch local Buddy Holly, before he made it big, perform. And after hearing Presley, he was inspired to write one of his first songs.

“It was New Year’s Eve, I was 14 at the time and I was celebrating at 4 a.m. with them hoodlum friends of mine and I heard a boy named Elvis Presley singing ‘That’s All Right Mama’ on the radio. It turned me on and I’ve been hooked on music from that moment on,” he said in an April interview.

After graduating from Lubbock High School, Davis moved to Atlanta — where his divorced mother and stepfather lived — attended Emory University and Georgia State College, played in a rock band and worked in sales and promotion for record companies.

He joined Sinatra’s Boots Enterprises in Los Angeles, writing songs for her and performing in her stage shows. She also recorded his song “Memories,” which Presley did as well.

“All songwriters … we love to sing our own songs. No matter how good we are vocally or how bad we are, we still want to do our own songs,” he said in 2017.

“I never really thought about it that much, but one day at a pool party, I was singing songs around the swimming pool, and there was a guy named Sandy Gallin who happened to be listening. I had lunch with him, and he offered me a management deal. The next thing I know, I was singing for Clive Davis at his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I sang a bunch of songs for him, and he said, ‘Would you like to be on Columbia Records?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ “

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, Lise; sons Scott, Noah and Cody; daughters-in-law Tammy, Amy and Cassia; granddaughter Lindsey; mother Edith; and sister Linda.

While details for arrangements are pending, his wife said Davis will be buried in Lubbock, and in a nod to his song “Texas in My Rear View Mirror,” he will be in jeans.

“A small-town boy who’d achieved the greatest kind of fame, he remained a good guy, a family man,” Kenny Chesney said in a statement. “That was Mac: a giant heart, quick to laugh and a bigger creative spirit. I was blessed to have it shine on me. And Mac, who was joyous, funny and created a family around him, never stopped writing great songs, creating music and inspiring everyone around him.”

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