HENRYETTA — Jim Shoulders, a legendary rodeo cowboy who dominated the sport during the 1950s with 16 world titles, died Wednesday at his home in Henryetta. He was 79. "The biggest tree in the rodeo forest has fallen,” said longtime friend Clem McSpadden of Chelsea. "Even in the coming generations, I don't think there will be a hero as strong as Jim Shoulders.” A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Sunday at Jim Shoulders Arena at Nichols Park in Henryetta. Shoulders died in his sleep at 3:30 a.m. with his wife, Sharon, by his side. He had been suffering from congestive heart failure. During a career that landed him in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Shoulders was nearly unbeatable. During the 1950s he won five all-around, seven bull riding and four bareback riding titles. He finished second at 10 events. "He's one of the greatest cowboys there ever was,” friend Clyde Frost said. "Probably as well-known as anybody. I'm sure he helped a lot of young guys get started.” He continued to support his sport late in life. In the spring, he was promoting bull riding events in the state and was still sponsored by Wrangler Jeans until the time of his death.
$18 startHis beginnings in the sport, though, were hard and humble. "I had been working in the wheat harvest for 25 cents an hour, but they didn't have a threshing crew until after (July 4), so I went over to Oilton, and they had a bull riding (event) and I entered,” Shoulders told The Oklahoman in February. "I was 14. That would have been in '43, I guess. I won $18 and that sure beat that wheat harvest for 25 cents an hour for 10 hours a day.” Shoulders would go on to compete in rodeos in Madison Square Garden in New York City and across the country. He also gained famed by co-starring in Miller Lite Beer Commercials with the likes of Yankees manager Billy Martin and slugger Boog Powell. "A lot of people still remember that Miller Lite deal,” Shoulders said. "That was a tough job. Most people work all week so they can go to the bar on Saturday night. I got paid to go every night. It was a fun job.” Called "The Babe Ruth” of rodeo, Shoulders was the only man to win the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days Rodeo all-around title four times and was a seven-time winner of the Calgary Stampede. Despite the wins, the most money Shoulders ever won in a single year in the sport was $50,000. "I always felt like I didn't win enough. In 1947, my wife, Sharon, and I had just got married, and I decided to enter the rodeo at Madison Square Garden and we would call it a honeymoon,” Shoulders said. "And if I was lucky enough to win something, it would be more of a fun honeymoon. I had enough money. I knew we could get back home.”
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Sixteen-time world bull riding champion Jim Shoulders poses with the mounted head of a bull, Bufford T Lite, and one of his Calgary Stampede championship bull riding trophies, in this photo shot in his home in Henryetta on Sept. 6. ASSOCIATED PRESS