Wagoner honored at Grand Ole Opry service

Friday, November 2, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Country singer Porter Wagoner was remembered Thursday as a legend in music, but friends said he was also a man who knew God and was prepared to die.

"I think this is a real sad day for everybody but Porter," said Dolly Parton, his former duet partner.

Parton, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, The Whites, Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs were among those who honored Wagoner in song at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.

Several others attended, including Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, George Jones, Travis Tritt and fellow Opry veteran Little Jimmy Dickens.

White flowers covered the top of Wagoner's casket, and two of his famous rhinestone outfits -- a red one and a purple one -- were placed on stage.

The 80-year-old entertainer died of lung cancer Sunday in a Nashville hospice. He'd been a member of the Opry since 1957 and in many ways had become the voice and face of the long-running country music show.

Wagoner also had a popular TV program in the 1960s and 1970s, and Parton got her first big break singing with him on the show.

She recalled that before Wagoner fell ill, he was sending her tapes with gospel songs on them.

"I said, 'Porter, are you cramming? After all those years of living like we did?'" Parton said. "Of course he said 'Yeah, I guess I am cramming, but I think I'm ready to go.'"

Parton, who was with Wagoner and his family in his last hours, went on to say that Wagoner was at peace when he died. She stood with her arm around Don Warden, who played steel guitar in Wagoner's band, the Wagonmasters, and led the Grand Ole Opry cast in a rendition of Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light."

The Rev. Jerry Sutton said in the eulogy that one of the things he admired about Wagoner was that he was the same around everyone, whether it was the president or a man who shined shoes for a living.

"Porter wasn't a perfect man, but he was a great man," Sutton said.

Wagoner almost died of a stomach aneurism last year, but he rebounded strong enough to create one of the best albums of his career, "Wagonmaster." Produced by Stuart and released in June, the record brought him critical acclaim and a whole new wave of young fans.

"God gave Porter just a little more time, and Porter knew he had just a little more time," Sutton said.

"When God said, 'Porter, it's time to go home,' Porter was ready to go home," he said.

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