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A Big Texan Reflects On 'Big Tex'


There is sorrow in Texas today over the passing of a towering figure in Lone Star lore, Big Tex. The iconic 52-foot-tall talking cowboy stood at the center of the State Fair of Texas, and he burnt this morning. The cause of the fire: an electrical short near his boot. NPR's John Burnett, a native of Dallas, has this remembrance.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Let us now praise famous men. Even when the Tilt-A-Whirl was silent and the Ferris wheel was still, there was the craggy, ever-smiling face with the hinged jaw that often scared little kids, looming high above, keeping vigil. Over the 60 years that Big Tex stood in Fair Park, his clothes evolved from a red cowboy shirt made by Lee to a yellow shirt with pearl snap buttons made by Dickies.

Fairgoers were greeted by his familiar drawl.

BIG TEX: Howdy, folks. Welcome to the State Fair of Texas.

BURNETT: Big Tex was always there when you needed him. In October 1979, I was riding the fair's Swiss sky ride when the cable cars started smashing into each other and falling off the cable. One man was killed and more than a dozen were injured. The ride stopped, they evacuated the fairgrounds and we hung up there for an hour. Then the reassuring voice of Big Tex, actually a Dallas radio announcer, intoned do not attempt to exit your cable car. Wait for the cherry picker. And we did, and we were safe. Hank Hill of "King of the Hill" admired Big Tex.


BURNETT: The Texas State Fair's spokesperson says they'll rebuild Big Tex bigger and better than ever in time for the next state fair in September 2013. I'll miss him just the same. John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

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