The song was released as a 45-rpm single by Monument Records in July 1961 and reached No. 1 on the United States Cashbox chart for a week on October 7, 1961, and peaked at No. 2 on the rival Billboard Hot 100. Despite not reaching the summit in the latter publication, Billboard ranked the record as the No. 4 song of 1961.
Don McLean recorded by far the most successful cover of the song, taking it to No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1981. His version of "Crying" also reached No. 2 adult contemporary and No. 6 Country. It fared even better in the UK, where it reached No. 1, spending three weeks atop the UK Singles Chart. McLean issued an album in 1981; however, "Crying" was taken from his 1978 album, Chain Lightning. It became his second greatest hit.
In the final round of season two of the talent show America's Got Talent, ventriloquist Terry Fator used his puppet turtle "Winston" to perform this song, while impersonating Roy Orbison. Fator received the highest number of votes and won the competition along with the one million dollar prize.
In 2009 "Crying" was performed by Jamie 'Afro' Archer on the UK version of The X Factor.
American Idol season 12 finalist Kree Harrison performed "Crying" during Music of the American Idols week.
U.S. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney mentioned this song among his top 10 songs of all time in March 2012.
In 2011, "Crying" was featured in the American comedy-drama film 50/50.
"Crying" was featured in an episode of Only Fools and Horses. The episode "Stage Fright" featured Raquel and a guest character Tony Angelino (played by Philip Pope) singing this song at a function. Angelino had a rhotacism, causing him to pronounce his Rs incorrectly.
"Crying" was featured in the 1997 dystopianart movie Gummo. After huffing glue, Tummler remarks that his cross-dressing brother used to sing "Crying". Tummler then proceeds to weakly sing parts of the song. The original version of the song is used during the last scenes of the movie.
In Sports Night, season 2, episode 14 ("And the Crowd Goes Wild"), Casey McCall wears sunglasses during the course of a day following an eye exam. His colleagues ridicule him for this, one of them saying, "Hit the high note in 'Crying' and I'll be impressed," in reference to Orbison and his trademark sunglasses.