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Joe Bonsall, country-gospel star with the Oak Ridge Boys, dies from ALS at 76

Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys performs at the Ryman Auditorium on December 12, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys performs at the Ryman Auditorium on December 12, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Joe Bonsall, the country music tenor who became a , died Tuesday at age 76.

Bonsall died from complications of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which he battled for several years and in January, according to a statement from the group.

“Joe ,” the statement read. “He loved to read. He loved to write. He loved to play banjo. He loved working on the farm. And he loved the Philadelphia Phillies. But Jesus and his family always came first — and we will see him again on the Promised Day.”

Bonsall joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973 and was part of the group during their huge commercial success of the 1980s, which included and “American Made.”

The band became a touring mainstay for decades, with their . Bonsall was on the road often during his five decades with the group, before stepping aside this year as ALS impacted his life.

“I am now at a point where walking is impossible, so I have basically retired from the road. It has just gotten too difficult,” he said in January. “It has been a great 50 years, and I am thankful to all the , band, crew and staff for the constant love and support shown to me through it all.”

Born May 18, 1948, in Philadelphia, took him to Harrisburg, Pa., and Buffalo with different gospel groups before he moved to Hendersonville, Tenn., and joined the Oak Ridge Boys.

The group itself had been through turbulent times since it was , with multiple massive lineup changes and little commercial success to speak of. Even a co-sign from Johnny Cash in 1973 and a record deal with Columbia couldn’t propel them to success.

But in 1977, the Oak Ridge Boys released and their run of country dominance began.

“In 1977 we knew we were on our way to making it when ‘Y’all Come Back Saloon’ was on every jukebox in the country,” in 2023. “You’d see four guys feeding the boxes quarters so they could play the song over and over again. It’s a wonder we didn’t get beat with a tire iron.”

“,” originally recorded in 1966 by Dallas Frazier, became the group’s biggest hit in 1981, topping the country charts and reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Oak Ridge Boys eventually racked up 17 No. 1 country hits through 1990.

They were of Fame in 2000, and the in 2015.

Along with his work as a singer, Bonsall also penned 10 books, including a four-part children’s series. His 11th book, a memoir called “,” is scheduled for release in November.

“I’m heartbroken to hear of my friend Joe Bonsall’s passing,” country star . “I’ve NEVER seen Joe when he wasn’t smiling and completely full of life. He absolutely loved singing like no one I ever met. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his Oak Ridge Boys brothers. We all lost a special person today.”

Bonsall is survived by his wife, Mary Ann; daughters Jennifer and Sabrina; sister Nancy, and two grandchildren.

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