CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Chris LeDoux (search), a world champion bareback rider who parlayed songs about cowboys he knew on the rodeo circuit into a successful country music career, died Wednesday from complications of liver cancer. He was 56.
LeDoux died Wednesday morning in Casper, according to Judy McDonough, spokeswoman for Capitol Nashville, LeDoux's recording company.
He had checked into Wyoming Medical Center earlier this week following complications from his cancer and was with family and friends at the time of his death.
"All of us at Capitol Records and EMI Music are saddened at the passing of Chris," said Capitol Nashville President and CEO Mike Dungan. "In a world of egos and soundalikes, he was a unique artist and a wonderful man. We have always been proud to represent his music, and honored to call him our friend."
LeDoux, known little outside the rodeo circuit until country superstar Garth Brooks (search) paid tribute to him in a song, described his music as a combination of "Western soul, sagebrush blues, cowboy folk and rodeo rock 'n' roll."
He and Brooks teamed up for the Top 10 hit, "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy" (search), in 1992.
In November, LeDoux canceled several tour dates while undergoing treatment for cancer of the bile duct. He had undergone a liver transplant in 2000 after a lengthy illness.
LeDoux (pronounced luh-DOO) had been playing guitar and harmonica and writing songs since his teens, and he used his musical skills to help pay for his rodeo entry fees.
He recorded songs about cowboys, the ups and downs of the rodeo circuit and his adopted home of Wyoming. In 1976, he became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's world bareback champion.
By 1989, LeDoux had released 22 albums. They were mostly cassettes produced by his parents, which he sold at concerts and rodeos. He had a loyal, if limited, fan base.
But that all changed that year when Brooks had a hit with "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," which included the line: "A worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/seem to be the only friends I've left at all."
The song came at a time when LeDoux's career was sputtering with an independent label and no marketing.
"And here he comes along and mentions the worn-out tapes in his song," LeDoux said of Brooks in an interview with The Associated Press in 2001. "To me, Garth, he's kind of like my guardian angel. It's like every time I need some help, he's there."
LeDoux eventually signed with Brooks' record label, Capitol.
In 2003, he released the album "Horsepower" (search) and celebrated career sales of more than 5 million albums.