People in the news

Bill Owens, uncle

to Dolly Parton, dies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country songwriter Bill Owens, who was a mentor and early songwriting partner to his niece Dolly Parton and helped start her career in country music, has died. He was 85.

Parton’s publicist confirmed his death on Wednesday, and Parton wrote a lengthy eulogy for her uncle, saying “I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been there.”

Owens helped Parton at the age of 10 get her first radio performance on the “Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour” radio show in Knoxville, Tennessee. He encouraged her to practice her guitar and often drove her to local shows where she could perform.

“It’s really hard to say or to know for sure what all you owe somebody for your success,” Parton wrote of her uncle. “But I can tell you for sure that I owe Uncle Billy an awful lot.”

They wrote songs together, including Parton’s very first single “Puppy Love,” which came out in 1959 when Parton was just 13. Owens eventually started taking her to Nashville to pitch songs to record labels and publishing companies.

Owens and Parton were signed as songwriters by Fred Foster, a legendary country producer, to his publishing company Combine Music, and Foster signed Parton as an artist to his Monument Records label in 1965.

Parton and Owens wrote the song “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” which would become a top 10 hit for Bill Phillips. Parton is also singing backup vocals in that recording. It was named BMI song of the year in 1966. Phillips would also record another song they wrote called “The Company You Keep.”

Owens wrote songs recorded by Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs and Kris Kristofferson. He was also a touring musician and backed up Parton in her early years in Nashville.

Owens also worked at Parton’s Dollywood theme park as a performer and his passion was restoring the native chestnut tree to the Great Smoky Mountains region. Parton said that he and his wife Sandy planted 70,000 trees on Dollywood property over his lifetime.

“He was funny, friendly and generous,” Parton said. “He always had a kind word for everybody and gave good advice to young people starting in the business.”

Celebrity zookeeper has dementia

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Celebrity zookeeper and animal TV show host Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia and will retire from public life, his family said.

In a news release Wednesday, his family added that it’s believed he now has Alzheimer’s disease that has quickly progressed in the last few months.

The 74-year-old Hanna was director of the Columbus Zoo from 1978 to 1992 and still serves as its director emeritus.

“Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals,” the statement signed by his three daughters said. Hanna continued to be a spokesperson for the Ohio zoo until he retired in 2020.

Hanna is also well-known for his live animal demonstrations on talk shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman and James Corden, increasing the profile of the Columbus Zoo and leading to massive attendance increases over the years.

Hanna, who always wore khakis on every television appearance and in photos, hosted the popular syndicated TV show “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures” from 1993 to 2008. He also hosted “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” which started in 2007, and “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” until last year.

“While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through,” the statement said. “And yes, he still wears his khakis at home.”

His family asked for privacy in light of COVID-19 restrictions.

“He has spent his life connecting people and wildlife because he has always believed that having people see and experience animals is key to engaging them in more impactful conversations,” his family said. “Even though Dad is no longer able to travel and work in the same way, we know that his infectious enthusiasm has touched many hearts and will continue to be his legacy.”

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