Wearing calico and gingham dresses and always sporting a big old straw hat with a $1.98 price tag hanging down, Minnie Pearl would light up the stage with a broad grin and offer her fans a boisterous "Howwwdyyy" before tickling them with her unique brand of downhome country corn, most of which was centered around her finding herself "a feller." For over 50 years, Pearl was the undisputed queen of country comedy and over her career was an icon of the Grand Ole Opry. For 20 of those years, she was also a staple of the syndicated sketch comedy show Hee Haw. Born Sarah Ophelia Colley in Centerville, TN, she originally aspired and trained to become a serious actress. However, she was touring with an Atlanta-based troupe when she created Minnie Pearl. The character was an instant hit and Colley never looked back; she went on to become one of America's first successful standup comediennes. In addition to her work on the Opry, where she debuted in 1940, and its television shows, Pearl frequently toured the country with other performers. She also appeared in a handful of feature films, beginning with the tuneful Forty Acre Feud (1965). Unlike the brash, man-hungry Minnie Pearl, Sarah Colley was a cultured, gracious, and caring woman married to her manager Henry Cannon. The two lived next door to the governor's mansion in Nashville. During her career, Pearl received numerous awards. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1975. A decade later, she underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Upon her recovery, Pearl became a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and in 1987 was awarded the society's Courage Award by President Ronald Reagan at a special White House ceremony. In 1991, Pearl suffered a crippling stroke. On March 5, 1996, she suffered what was diagnosed as either another stroke or a brain seizure and passed away at age 83.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Found the inspiration for the character Minnie Pearl in a humorous elderly woman in an Alabama mountain town who housed Colley for a night when lodging wasn't available.
- Was managed and personally flown by pilot and husband Henry Cannon, whose charter service catered to country artists including Tom Parker, Hank Williams, Carl Smith and even Elvis Presley.
- Lent her name to an ill-fated chain of chicken restaurants aimed at competing with Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1975, becoming the first comedian so honored.
- Is celebrated with artifacts in the Grand Ole Opry Museum (originally at Opryland USA). One of her "$1.98" signature hats is also on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
- Treated for breast cancer in 1985 at a Nashville center that was later renamed the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center.