|HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Hoyt Axton, a folksy
baritone, songwriter and actor who wrote Three
Dog Night's No. 1 hit ``Joy
to the World'' and songs that were performed by artists from Elvis Presley
to Ringo Starr, died Tuesday. He was 61.
Axton died at his ranch in the Bitterroot
Valley, surrounded by family and friends. He moved to the area after playing
a sheriff in the movie ``Disorganized Crime,'' filmed there in
He suffered a heart attack two weeks ago
and another during surgery, said Jan Woods, a longtime friend in Nashville,
Tenn. He had never fully recovered from a 1996 stroke and used a wheelchair
much of the time. Axton also had advanced complications from diabetes.
Axton's mother, Mae Boren Axton, had her
own spot in popular culture history as the writer of Presley's ``Heartbreak
``When Mae died three years ago, she left me
Hoyt,'' Ms. Woods said. ``He was probably one of the most honest, humorous
kids that never grew up.''
``There was nobody that didn't like Hoyt,''
said Fran Boyd, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Academy
of Country Music. ``Oh God, was he fun.''
Three Dog Night's recording of his novelty
``Joy to the World'' (``Jeremiah was
a bullfrog ...'') was on top of the charts for six straight weeks in 1971, making it the top hit of the year.
Axton pitched the song to group members when he was their opening act
in 1969-70. He also wrote ``Never
Spain'' for the band, a song also recorded by Presley.
Axton's own singing hits include ``Boney
Fingers'' (``Work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Boney fingers'')
and ``When the Morning Comes.''
The native of Duncan, Okla., started out
singing folk songs in the clubs of San Francisco in 1958 and a song he co-wrote,
``Greenback Dollar,'' was a 1963 hit for the Kingston Trio.
He wrote hits for Starr
(``No No Song'') and Steppenwolf (``The Pusher''). Others who performed songs he wrote included
Joan Baez, Waylon Jennings, John Denver and Linda Ronstadt.
Steppenwolf's "The Pusher'' and "Snowblind
Friend'' were rare forays into a more serious theme. ``The Pusher'' was
a powerful, passionate song that condemned drug sellers.
And 1975's ``No No Song'' included the
lines ``No no no no, I don't sniff it no more. I'm tired of waking up on the
But in 1997, police found slightly more
than a pound of marijuana at Axton's home. Deborah Hawkins, whom Axton wed
later that year, said she gave him marijuana because it relieved some of
the pain, anxiety and stress he suffered after his stroke, her lawyer
Axton was given a three-year deferred sentence
and fined $15,000 for marijuana possession. Hawkins got a one-year
deferred sentence and a $1,000 fine.
A large man, Axton as an actor specialized
in playing good ol' boys on TV and in films, including ``Gremlins'' and ``The
Black Stallion.'' He sang the ``Head to the Mountains'' jingle used
to advertise Busch beer in the 1980s.
Survivors include Axton's wife and five
VICTOR, Montana (Reuters) - Singer-songwriter
Hoyt Axton, who penned a string of pop hits including Three Dog Night's
''Joy to the World,'' has died at his Montana ranch at the age of 61, friends
The cause of death was not announced, but
Axton, a large man who also acted in movies and on television, had a history
of ill health, Nashville-based associate David McCormick said.
Axton was literally born to songwriting.
His mother, Mae Boren Axton, was a co-author of Elvis Presley's ``Heartbreak
Axton churned out his own list of hits
beginning with ''Greenback Dollar,''
recorded in 1963 by the Kingston Trio.
Other chart-toppers included Ringo Starr's
``No No Song'' of 1975 as well as songs performed by Elvis Presley, John Denver and Linda Ronstadt.
But his best-known song remains the 1971
Three Dog Night smash ``Joy To The World,'' with its unmistakable opening
was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine...'' The song topped
the charts for six weeks.
Axton also acted in numerous movies and
television shows, stretching from ``Bonanza'' in 1964 to ``Diff'rent Strokes''
in 1984. He is survived by his
wife and several adult children.
Axton, Singer, Character Actor and Hit Songwriter, Dies
By MYRNA OLIVER, LA Times Staff Writer
Hoyt Axton, the folksy
country and pop singer and songwriter who penned
the Kingston Trio's folk classic "Greenback Dollar," Three Dog Night's
pop hit "Joy to the World" and his own humorous recording "Boney Fingers,"
died Tuesday at age 61.
Axton, also a familiar
character actor, died at his ranch in Victor, Mont., after
suffering two severe heart attacks in two weeks. A disabling stroke three
years ago forced him to use a wheelchair much of the time. The Oklahoma-born
entertainer emerged into the limelight as a folk singer in
the 1960s at West Hollywood's Troubadour and Huntington Beach's Golden
Bear. He saw himself more as a songwriter than either a singer or an actor,
but worked prolifically in all three areas for four decades. He continually
toured in concert and recorded his own songs, often on his own
label--dubbed Jeremiah for the bullfrog in
"Joy to the World."
Yet it fell mostly to
others to make the songs Axton wrote into stellar hits--the
Kingston Trio with "Greenback Dollar" in 1962, Steppenwolf with
"The Pusher" in 1968 and "Snowblind Friend" in 1971, and then Three Dog Night
and the international success of "Joy to the World" in 1971.
Axton, who had performed as an opening act
for Three Dog Night in 1969
and 1970, went on to write "Never Been to Spain," another hit for the group
"Axton was a substantial songwriting talent
who was able to inject his own
fun-loving sensibilities into goofy, feel-good hits, such as 'Joy to the World,' " said Robert Hilburn, The Times' pop music critic, on Tuesday.
Chuck Negron, former member of Three Dog
Night, said he was saddened by
Axton's death, adding that "thanks to Hoyt's genius, 'Joy' and its
memorable opening lyric, 'Jeremiah was a
bullfrog . . .' are arguably a part of
Hilburn added that Axton could also write songs that "reflect with equal
skill on human struggle, notably the drug-themed 'Snowblind Friend.' "
Fran Boyd, executive
director of the Los Angeles-based Academy of Country
Music, said: "There was nobody that didn't like Hoyt. He was an entertainer's
entertainer. It's a big loss for country music. Oh, God, was he fun." Described over the years by various Times reviewers as "a good ol' boy," "a
gravel-voiced bear of a man" and a "rumpled, life-loving, big, burly man," Axton
had his own problems with cocaine, as well as alcohol and dangerously
Many of his songs have anti-drug lyrics, including "Snowblind Friend," which
relates: "He said he wanted heaven / But praying was too slow, / So he
bought a one-way ticket / On the air line made of snow." Another, "The No-No Song," recorded by Ringo Starr, was humorous but also warned against
Axton's songs found their
way into motion picture soundtracks as well, notably
"The Pusher" in the 1969 "Easy Rider"; "You Taught Me How to
Cry" in both the 1980 "Cloud Dancer" and
the 1983 "Heart Like a Wheel"; and
"Joy to the World" in the 1983 film "The Big Chill" and the 1994 movie "Forrest
Axton made his acting debut
in 1959 in an episode of television's long-running
western series "Bonanza." After that, he was much in demand as
a country, Western or small-town character, often a sheriff or member of the
family, as in "The Black Stallion" in 1979. He was the addled inventor Rand Peltzer in "Gremlins" in 1984, a priest in "We're No Angels" and the sheriff
in "Disorganized Crime" in 1989, Huey P. Long Sr. in the 1995 television
movie "Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long" and a mayor in this year's
In addition to "Bonanza,"
Axton was a popular guest star on such television series as "McCloud," "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "Murder, She Wrote."
He also was remembered for
his television commercials, including touting Big
Macs for McDonald's in 1970 and singing the jingle "Head to the Mountains"
for Busch beer in the 1980s.
Songwriting was a natural
for Axton, the son of English teacher-turned-songwriter
Mae Boren Axton. She was Hank Snow's publicist and co-wrote with Thomas Durden Elvis Presley's mega-hit "Heartbreak Hotel." (She died in 1997 and Durden died Oct. 17.)
The success of that song
had a profound impact on Axton, who once told
an interviewer that he "started out to
write prose; I wanted to be Jack London." After Presley made his mother and Durden famous, Axton decided
he might find success by writing music.
From his mother, Axton
learned to sing ballads as a child. He also studied classical
piano and experimented with boogie and rock 'n' roll, learning to play guitar in his teens.
Football was far more important than music
initially, when Axton won a scholarship
and became a football star at Oklahoma State University. But after
dropping out of college and serving in the Navy, he started singing folk songs
in coffeehouses and clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hilburn, who first reviewed Axton at the Troubadour 30 years ago, said he
". . . was limited as a singer, which is why his songs were more successful on
record when covered by other artists. But he was especially winning on
stage, where his easygoing, informal manner
added a warm edge to the natural
appeal of his songs." The
thrice-divorced Axton is survived by his wife, Deborah, and five