Legendary Ray Stevens turns 86, remains devastated since wife died days before his birthday two years ago

The man who once begged for Barry Manilow’s help and later said “Taylor Swift is Stalkin’ Me” is celebrating his 86th birthday on January 24.

But after losing his wife days before his birthday two years ago, and his only sibling four years ago, country music legend Ray Stevens, known for his comedic performances, is struggling with reasons to revel.

And now he’s paring down his live shows.

Keep reading to learn more about the man who’s been entertaining audiences for six decades!

Born on January 24, 1939, as Harold Ragsdale, Ray Stevens started his career in 1957, when he was only 18.

In 1970, he left Georgia for Nashville, Tennessee, and released “Everything is Beautiful,” which topped the country music charts and earned him his first Grammy Award.


Shortly after, his country-novelty song, “The Streak,” which talked about the streaking craze, reached transatlantic audiences, reaching number one in both the U.S and British charts. Years later, a clip of the song was featured in an episode of The Simpsons.

Since then, the Country Music Hall of Fame member, who over a career spanning 60 years has more than 40 million albums sold, has been entertaining audiences with pop, rock, bluegrass, and comedy.


The “Ahab the Arab” singer also collaborated with many other legends, like Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson.

In 2015, Stevens started producing and hosting the weekly variety show Ray Stevens Nashville, which he rebranded as Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville. The show is filmed on stage at the CabaRay Showroom, a live music venue and dinner theatre in West Nashville that opened in 2018, and is aired on PBS across the U.S.

Explaining the inspiration behind CabaRay Stevens tells The Tennessean, “I’ve always been in the music business…and I’ve traveled all over the world, played shows, written, and recorded a lot of successful records.” Speaking with the local publication on January 16, 2024, he continues, “And so I was tired. I was just tired of the road, tired of traveling or having to get on a plane or bus to go where I needed to perform.”


Also a talented musician, John Ragsdale worked alongside his big brother, supporting his massive successes, while also growing his own brand. The sibling was even willing to dress as a gorilla and swing across some vines in Stevens’ 1969 hit “Gitarzan.”


In 2020, John died after having a fall at his home on an island, off the coast of Panama. He was 75.

Grappling with the loss of his only brother, the “Misty” singer focused on his work and dedicated himself to bringing his fans the best of his music at CabaRay.

But life had more surprises for him.

On December 29, 2021, it was announced on his Facebook that his wife of six decades, Penny Jackson Ragsdale, was nearing the end of her lengthy battle with cancer.

“It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we inform you Ray’s wife, Penny, has had a prolonged illness and has suddenly and rapidly progressed to the end-of-life stage, and Ray is devastated.” The message continues, “His only focus right now is her.”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fraystevensmusic1707%2Fposts%2Fpfbid0iWHVvSBKJEMn4ngMiFaAB3sKUN45vDYdiVPKVKz7Jeg4i2xMajyXCejvfxyg9BmYl&show_text=true&width=500

Next, the post announces the cancellation of the highly anticipated show that ring in the new year.

“Regretfully, Ray will not be able to perform the New Year’s Eve show scheduled at the CabaRay, it has been canceled. We are incredibly sorry for the inconvenience and hope you all understand. Please send your thoughts and prayers to Ray and his family during this difficult time.”

Penny, who shared with Stevens two daughters (Timi and Suzi), four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, died shortly before midnight on December 31, 2021.

She was 78.

Final season at CabaRay

Now, according to his website, by the end of 2024, the singer of “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow” plans to discontinue regular performances at the CabaRay Showroom.  

“I really want to concentrate on recording and I’m still writing songs and in the studio producing records,” Stevens said, adding “I’ve had a long run and a good run.”


But he’s not ready for full retirement, more of a slowdown of live shows.

“I’m just doing what I’ve always done and trying to make music. I love what I do, and I do just want to continue to do that as long as I can,” said Stevens.

His last year of live shows at CabaRay starts March 16 and runs through December 2024.

“I’m looking forward to this final year, it’s going to be a good year,” Steven said.  “I’d like to see everybody come out if they can and see the show.”

After learning the news of his live show retirement, fans from around the world praised Stevens and wished him the best.

One Aussie fan shares, “Looks like they’re gonna be awesome concerts! I live in Australia so it’s a real shame I may never see you live in concert!”


A second netizen writes, “Have been there twice and had so much fun. God bless you in your retirement.” While a third only says, “Noooooo!”

We hope Ray Stevens has the happiest birthday and we look forward to hearing what he produces in the studio.

What are your favorite memories of this legend? Please share your thoughts with us and then share the story so we can hear what others have to say!

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