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Homely country togs defined a beloved Grand Ole Opry stalwart

"In those days, radio performers were never really allowed to say anything to their audience; they were introduced and delivered their performance," says Charles K. Wolfe, author of numerous books on folk, country and popular music. "Minnie addressed the audience, getting them to see her as an individual."

Colley, say those who knew her, had little in common with Minnie. "She was the epitome of the old gentrified Nashville," says Wolfe. "Gracious, soft-spoken, always well dressed, nowhere near the simplistic, brash man chaser she portrayed." Colley and her husband, Henry Cannon, a pilot and businessman, lived next door to the Tennessee Governor’s Mansion. (They had no children.)

Minnie Pearl retired in 1991 after Colley, at the age of 78, suffered a severe stroke. She died five years later of another stroke. The woman who had viewed Minnie as a stepping-stone toward a career in theater had grown to admire, love and even envy the bumptious, carefree girl who never aged. In the late 1980s, looking back on her career in a column she wrote for the Nashville Banner, Colley recalled: "I had no idea I would become hooked on laughter and become so fond of the fans and so fond of the character Minnie." Colley’s father’s advice, given to her as she first began working up Minnie’s persona, had proved remarkably prescient: "You’ll make a fortune off that someday, Phel, if you keep it kind."

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