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Saturday, October 3, 1998 Published at 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK

World: Americas

Singing cowboy Gene Autry dies

Gene Autry: Singer, actor and tycoon

The first singing cowboy in the history of cinema, Gene Autry, has died at his home in southern California at the age of 91.

The son of a Texas horse trader, Gene Autry first sang on the radio in the 1920s, before going on to make nearly 100 films and more than 600 records. One of his most famous songs, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has sold more than 30 million copies.

His signature tune, Back in the Saddle Again, was in the charts as recently as 1993 after being used in the soundtrack to the film Sleepless in Seattle.

The singer-actor also made a multimillion-dollar fortune in broadcasting and was the original owner of the California Angels baseball team.

He died less than three months after the death of his great rival, Roy Rogers.

After a nomadic childhood, Gene Autry settled in Oklahoma where he began composing tunes on a mail-order guitar while he was working as a telegraph operator.

He went to Los Angeles in 1934 to appear in a film called In Old Santa Fe.

"I was the first singing cowboy in that picture," Autry once said. "John Wayne had made an earlier movie in which he played a singing cowboy, but he didn't do his own singing."

Astute businessman

An astute businessman as well as a singer and actor, Gene Autry was for many years on Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest men in the United States, and at the time of his death he is believed to have been worth at least $300m.

Throughout his life Mr Autry collected Western memorabilia and funded the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, whose exhibits include guns used by Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp.

His name lives on in the town of Gene Autry, Oklahoma, named after him in 1941.

Former US President and Western actor Ronald Reagan, and his wife Nancy, issued a statement saying their old friend "delighted and touched millions".

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