"John Wayne Is Big Leggy" was released in July 1982; backed by "The Sabres Of Paradise," it was the short-lived Haysi Fantayzee's debut single. If this is a tribute song, it remains to be seen what "The Duke" himself would have made of it, as he died in 1979. Probably more than any other actor, Wayne came to symbolise not just the American cowboy but everything that was fundamentally decent about America. He made over two hundred films, most of them Westerns or connected in some way with the Old West. His two greatest films were made towards the end of his career, True Grit
(1969) and - arguably his greatest performance - the low key 1976 film The Shootist
in which he played a world weary retired gunfighter who was dying of cancer. Although J.B. Books elected to go out in a blaze of glory, Wayne himself died of cancer - of the stomach - having already beaten lung cancer in 1964, albeit by the drastic measure of the total removal of his left lung. (Wayne was a chain smoker). In 1981, the John Wayne Cancer Institute was established by Wayne's family in his memory, and was presided over by his eldest son until his own death in 2003.
Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit
; although he probably deserved it for his portrayal of the fiery, no-nonsense Marshal Rooster Cogburn, it was really a lifetime achievement award. Glen Campbell, who would later record "Rhinestone Cowboy
" played a major supporting role.
Rooster Cogburn and most of the characters Wayne played were indeed "big leggy"; as he stood six foot four, that was hardly surprising. The reference to him being "big as a ranch" obviously does not concern his gait.
It has been suggested that this song refers to or portrays Wayne as a racial bigot, a tiresome allegation easily and too often made, even in the 1980s, but a white man who married three Latin American women shouldn't really have to answer that charge. This song is tongue in cheek if nothing else.
Here is an image from True Grit