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Slim Whitman: Country singer dies at age 90

FILE - This undated file photo shows country singer Slim Whitman. Whitman died Wednesday, June 12, 2013 of heart failure in Florida. He was 90. Whitman's career began in the late 1940s, and his tenor falsetto and ebony mustache and sideburns became global trademarks. They were also an inspiration for countless jokes thanks to the ubiquitous 1980s and 1990s TV commercials that pitched his records. (AP Photo, file)
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Country singer Slim Whitman, the high-pitched yodeler who sold millions of records through ever-present TV ads in the 1980s and 1990s and whose song saved the world in the film comedy "Mars Attacks!," died Wednesday of heart failure at a Florida hospital, according to his son-in-law. He was 90.

Whitman's tenor falsetto and ebony mustache and sideburns became global trademarks -- and an inspiration for countless jokes -- thanks to the TV commercials that pitched his records.

But he was a serious musical influence on early rock, and in the British Isles, he was known as a pioneer of country music for popularizing the style there. Whitman also encouraged a teenaged Elvis Presley when he was the headliner on the bill and the young singer was making his professional debut.

Whitman recorded more than 65 albums and sold millions of records, including 4 million of "All My Best" that was marketed on TV.

His career spanned six decades, beginning in the late 1940s, but he achieved cult figure status in the 1980s. His visage as an ordinary guy singing romantic ballads struck a responsive chord with the public.

"That TV ad is the reason I'm still here," Whitman told The Associated Press in 1991. "It buys fuel for the boat."

In 1952, Whitman had his first hit record, "Love Song of the Waterfall," which 25 years later became part of the soundtrack of the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Another Whitman hit from that year, "Indian Love Call," was used to humorous effect in the 1996 "Mars Attacks!"-- his yodel causes the Martians' heads to explode.

He was survived by his daughter, Sharon Beagle, and his son, Byron Whitman.

Whitman told the AP in 1991 that he wanted to be remembered as "a nice guy."

"I don't think you've ever heard anything bad about me, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'd like my son (Bryon) to remember me as a good dad. I'd like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit."