Childhood & Early Life
Sheb was born Shelby Fredrick Wooley on April 10, 1921, in Erick, Oklahoma, to William C Wooley and Ora E Wooley. He grew up with his older brothers, Logan and Hubert, and his younger brother, William.
Sheb's father was a farmer, and his family owned horses. He learned horseback riding at a young age and later became a rodeo rider. He had also worked as a cowboy.
Sheb was 15 when he turned his passion for music into a career and formed a country-western band, the 'Plainview Melody Boys.' The band was often heard performing on the 'KASA' radio station in Elk City, Oklahoma, and at rodeos.
Sheb's rodeo injuries did not let him serve in the military during World War II. In the early 1940s, he worked as a welder and also got a job in the oil industry. He had attended the 'Jack Koslyn School of Acting.'
In 1946, Sheb moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he worked as a country-western musician at the radio station 'WBAP,' performing for a show sponsored by 'Calumet Baking Powder.' He also toured with his group, the 'Calumet Indians,' for 3 years. Later, in 1950, he moved to Hollywood to enter the mainstream industry and eventually bagged a recording contract with 'MGM Records.'
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Sheb cleared a screen test for 'Warner Bros.' He was part of the 1950 western film 'Rocky Mountain,' the first of more than 60 feature films featuring Sheb in supporting roles. He was primarily cast as a gunslinger in such films. However, the most prominent of the lot was his portrayal of ‘Ben Miller,’ the whiskey-drinking gunfighter in the 1952 western 'High Noon.'
Sheb had also appeared in several other Westerns, such as ‘Apache Drums’ and 'Texas Bad Man,' in the first decade of his career. He also ventured into TV, and in 1954, Sheb was seen in many syndicated Western series, such as 'Stories of the Century' and 'The Range Rider.'
Sheb had been a prolific voice artist, and his most notable work was the “Wilhelm scream,” a stock sound effect that has been featured in around 416 films and TV series. It was used for the first time in the 1951 Western 'Distant Drums' (as a “voice extra”), which also featured Sheb in an uncredited role, as later told by his widow, Linda Dotson-Wooley.
Following Sheb's appearances in the series 'The Lone Ranger,' 'The Adventures of Kit Carson,' 'The Cisco Kid,' 'My Friend Flicka,' and 'The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp' and in the 1958 film 'Terror in a Texas Town,' he bagged his breakthrough TV role in the 'CBS' western 'Rawhide' (1959–1966). He was cast as ‘Pete Nolan’ and had also written and directed a few episodes of the series.
Sheb eventually appeared in a few major films, such as 'The Outlaw Josey Wales,' 'Silverado,' and 'Hoosiers.' Later, he ventured into the music industry as a recording artist. One of his initial notable releases was the 1958 novelty song 'The Purple People Eater.' It topped the US charts.
Subsequently, Sheb released several novelty hits, along with some classic pop recordings, of which many were classified as country and country-western songs. His comedy single 'Luke the Spook' was a minor hit in the UK, while 'My Only Treasure,' his ballad fused with the country-western culture, did comparatively well.
Sheb subsequently released several country hits, including 'That's My Pa' that topped the 1962 'Billboard Hot C&W Sides' and the US country chart. The same year, he was supposed to record the single 'Don't Go Near the Indians' but could not do so because of his acting commitments. Rex Allen later recorded the song.
Sheb however, recorded the sequel to the hit song 'Don't Go Near the Eskimos.' The song was about a boy in Alaska named ‘Ben Colder’ and was a greater success than his previous release. He used the name again in the single 'Shaky Breaky Car,' which was a parody of 1990 'The Marcy Brothers' original single 'Achy Breaky Heart.'
In December 1963, Sheb's single 'Hootenanny Hoot' was among the top 10 hits in Australia. In 1967, 'The Love-in' was recognized as one of the best compositions on the 1960s' counterculture. By the following decade, Sheb became active on TV.
Sheb was cast as a regular in the variety series 'Hee Haw.' He even wrote the theme song for the show. Interestingly, his character in the series, ‘Ben Colder,’ was a drunkard country songwriter. Sheb played the role until his death in 2003 and recorded his final song just 4 days before his death.
In 1968, Sheb was honored with the 'Country Music Association Comedian of the Year’ award. He earned the 'Songwriter of the Year' title in 1992. He had two 'Golden Boot Awards' to his credit. He won the 'Western Heritage Award' for 9 consecutive years for his performances in Westerns.
Family, Personal Life & Death
In 1940, Sheb married songwriter and actor Roger Miller's 17-year-old cousin, Melva Miller. They remained together for 6 years. He later married Edna Talbott Bunt, a young widow with a son named Gary, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sheb was married to his third wife, Beverly Irene Addington, for 19 years. They had an adopted daughter named Chrystie Lynn. In 1985, Sheb married Deanna Grughlin. His last marriage was to his manager, Linda Dotson. At the time of the marriage, she had a daughter named Shauna.
In 1996, Sheb was diagnosed with leukemia. He eventually retired in 1999. He battled leukemia for 7 years. On September 16, 2003, he died at the 'Skyline Medical Center' in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 82 at the time of his death. He was cremated at the ‘Memory Gardens’ in Hendersonville, Tennessee.