Country Music

Texas Radio's ‘Midnight Cowboy,' Country Songwriter Bill Mack Dies of COVID-19, Family Says

Grammy award-winning songwriter, hall of fame DJ dies after fighting novel coronavirus at the age of 91

bill mack at wbap
Joe Stefanchik/The Dallas Morning News

Longtime North Texas radio DJ and award-winning country music songwriter Bill Mack has died of COVID-19, according to his son, Billy Mack Jr.

Mack, who was a staple on country radio beginning in the 1960s, died early Friday just two days after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was 91.

"I’m deeply saddened to tell you that my Dad passed away early this morning due to COVID-19 with underlying conditions. He was an amazing father, grandfather, great-grandfather and husband to my mom. I’m blessed to have had not only a great dad but my best friend as well," said Mack's son, Billy Mack Jr. on Twitter.

Mack's son spoke with NBC 5 Friday afternoon and said his father had been suffering from dementia and living in a memory care facility when he was diagnosed with the virus. On Wednesday he was confirmed to both have fluid in his lungs and COVID-19 and was rushed to an Irving ICU.

Soon after, doctors told the family that Mack had very little time left.

Mack's son said since his father was positive for COVID-19, he, his mother and his three sisters were only able to say goodbye on a conference call.

"We got to say our goodbyes to him yesterday. My sister played Clinging to a Saving Hand, a song that he wrote years back. He said he wanted to hear it so we just played it and kind of tried to sing along a little bit with it," Mack Jr. said. "He couldn't speak very well, but his sense of humor was still there. One of the things that he told us, "Guys, will you please pull yourselves together you're embarrassing me in front of the nurse."

Bill Mack
NBC 5 News
Billy Mack Jr. smiles while talking with NBC 5 about his father, legendary DJ and songwriter Bill Mack, July 31, 2020.

Mack Jr. said the family had taken every precaution against the disease and hoped to be able to visit his father again soon -- never realizing that when the saw him in March it would be the last time they would be face to face.

"You hear stories of nursing homes and people getting infected, but you never thought that would happen," Mack Jr. said, adding that the memory care facility where his father lived was fantastic and treated his father like family. They aren't yet sure how the virus got inside the facility and Mack Jr. said his father is believed to be the first resident diagnosed. "My heart goes out to them as well."

Mack Jr. said his father's lasting legacy will be that of a great father, a great friend and that of someone who tried to share stories about music and movies to his family of listeners.

bill mack in 1971
NBC 5/UNT Portal to History
Bill Mack in front of the WBAP radio and TV studios in 1971.

Mack, who was born in the Panhandle town of Shamrock, was known to his loyal listeners as the "Dean of Country Music Disc Jockeys" and "Radio's Midnight Cowboy" due to his dual status as a country music DJ and songwriter.

He first hit the airwaves in Fort Worth in 1969 as a disc jockey on WBAP 820-AM where he hosted the Country Roads Show and played music for overnight truckers.

The show, which was broadcast out of the historic WBAP studios where NBC 5 also first went on the air, was later renamed the Midnight Cowboy Trucking Show, which is associated with his moniker. The show, with its clear channel signal, reached listeners in Texas and across much of the United States.

bill mack in 1973
NBC 5/UNT Portal to History
Bill Mack in his WBAP-AM studio in Fort Worth, 1973.

That show is still on the air, though is now known as Red Eye Radio. Current host Eric Harley said on Twitter that he was, "Deeply saddened by the passing of long-time friend and former radio partner Bill Mack. A legend. In 1969, he founded the all-night show on WBAP that eventually became Red Eye Radio. My love and prayers are with Cindy, Billy and family. Rest in peace, brother."

“When you see Bill Mack, in the background there’s the Texas flag, there’s Big Tex at the great State Fair of Texas and all those other iconic symbols that go along with Texas,” said Harley during an interview with NBC 5.

Harley heard of Mack’s passing this morning on Twitter.

“It really is devastating because Bill was more than just a colleague. He was more than just a friend. He was like a brother. He was the consummate companion to everyone he met,” he said.

Harley grew up listening to Mack’s radio show and later joined him as co-host.

“He was so kind and I thought to myself here’s this legend I’m working with,” said Harley. “One night he said: Son, I’m going to get you some coffee. And he went down the hall and made us both coffee. He was that kind of guy. You couldn’t imagine how kind and gentle he is until you met him in person.”

After leaving the terrestrial-based airwaves, Mack then hosted a show on XM satellite radio for another decade before leaving in 2011.

bill mack at home
The Dallas Morning News
Bill Mack, a.k.a. the Midnight Cowboy, with his display of gold record songs that he has written for popular country and western singers, appears at his home in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Feb. 16, 1997.

Mack's country music songs were recorded by more than five dozen artists culminating in 1996 with a Grammy award for Best Country Song and Song of the Year awards from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Radio Music Awards for the song Blue.

That same song also won 13-year-old LeAnn Rimes her first Grammy for her recording of the song.

Another of Mack's hits, Drinking Champagne, was a hit for singer Cal Smith in the 1960s and George Strait in 1990. Other popular renditions of the song by Dean Martin and Willie Nelson were played live and can be viewed on YouTube.

Mack was named to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and is an inductee in the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association. As for his radio career, Mack was enshrined in the Country Music DJ and Radio Hall of Fame in 1982.

bill mack at home
Brad Loper/The Dallas Morning News
Song writer and WBAP DJ Bill Mack with his Grammy and American Country Music Award in the living room of his East Fort Worth home Wednesday.

Mack would also introduce every concert at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth.

“I’m pretty sure if you looked up ‘country music’ in the dictionary you’ll see Bill Mack’s picture,” said Pam Minick, of Billy Bob’s. He’s really a walking encyclopedia. Most importantly I consider him a great friend. And gosh Bill Mack, you are country music and you will be missed.”

Harley said he’s lost family members to COVID-19 and is saddened they cannot come together for Mack.

“I know it’s hard when you can’t come together as a group, and it would be a large group for Bill. I’m telling you right now, it would fill many, many, many churches and it is so tough to know that his friends many that he had all over would not be able to be there for him,” he said.  “While we can’t be there to show our condolences in person we are here and we will continue to do that and pay tribute to him for a long, long time.”

Funeral plans have not yet been announced, but the family said they will hold a service to celebrate his life when it's safe to get people together in the same room.

Mack is survived by his wife Cindy, son Billy and two daughters Misty and Sunnie. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Debbie.

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