The Buddy Holly Story

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The Buddy Holly Story
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteve Rash
Screenplay byRobert Gittler
Story byAlan Swyer
Based onBuddy Holly: His Life and Music
by John Goldrosen
Produced by
  • Fred Bauer
  • Edward H. Cohen
  • Frances Avrut-Bauer
  • Fred T. Kuehnert
CinematographyStevan Larner
Edited by
Music byJoe Renzetti
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 18, 1978 (1978-05-18)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million[1] or $2 million[2]
Box office$14.3 million[3]

The Buddy Holly Story is a 1978 American biographical musical drama film directed by Steve Rash which tells the life and career of rock and roll musician Buddy Holly. It features an Academy Award-winning musical score, adapted by Joe Renzetti and Oscar-nominated lead performance by Gary Busey. The film also stars Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis, William Jordan, and Maria Richwine, who plays María Elena Holly.

It was adapted by Robert Gittler from Buddy Holly: His Life and Music, the 1975 biography of Holly by John Goldrosen, and was directed by Steve Rash.


In 1956, Buddy Holly and his friends, drummer Jesse Charles and bass player Ray Bob Simmons, regularly performed at a local roller rink in Lubbock, Texas, as The Crickets. A local radio station broadcasts the show. Holly plays a country song, then switches to a rock and roll song, exciting the teens much to the annoyance of the radio station's sponsor. Station manager Riley tells Holly that Coral Records vice president wants the band to make a recording in Nashville, Tennessee.

At the recording studio, Holly walks out when his rock-and-roll vision clashes with the producers, who want The Crickets to play country music. Later, Riley says he sent a tape of the Cricket's roller rink performance to New York City music producer Ross Turner. Believing the demo tape is a master copy, Turner releases it without realizing the band has no contract. The record is a hit and Holly can now pursue music full time. In New York City, the Crickets meet with Turner; after initial resistance, he agrees that Holly can make music how he wants.

Sol Gittler books the Crickets for the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, assuming they are a black band. He is stunned when three white Texans show up and he refuses to let them perform, fearing the audience's reaction. Holly points out that Gittler's telegram specifies that they only have to be in New York City for a week to be paid $1,000, so Gittler nervously allows them to perform, the first white act to perform at the Apollo. After an uncomfortable start, Holly's music soon wins over the audience and the Crickets are a hit. Turner's secretary, Maria Elena Santiago, catches Holly's eye but their budding romance is nearly ended when her strict aunt refuses to allow them to date. Holly convinces her to change her mind and on their first date, Holly proposes to Maria. She accepts and they are soon married.

After two years of success, Ray Bob and Jesse, feeling overshadowed by Holly and wanting to return to Texas, decide to quit while Holly believes it is necessary to remain in New York to stay popular. After appearing on CBS TV on The Ed Sullivan Show, Jesse and Ray Bob return to Lubbock with the agreement that they will retain the Crickets name. Though saddened by their departure, Holly carries on writing. He initially fears performing without them despite his manager emphasizing that touring is necessary to chart success. Holly is delighted when Maria becomes pregnant, though she sees he is frustrated professionally and urges him to go on tour.

On February 2, 1959, preparing for a concert at Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly charters a private plane to fly to Moorhead, Minnesota for the next concert after the tour bus has broken down. The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens join him on the flight. The Crickets, feeling nostalgic and wanting to revive the band, plan to join Holly at his next tour stop. After playing his final song, "Not Fade Away", Holly bids the crowd farewell. A caption reveals that Holly, Valens and the Bopper died in a plane crash that night "... and the rest is Rock 'n Roll".


Actor Role
Gary Busey Buddy Holly
Don Stroud Jesse Charles
Charles Martin Smith Ray Bob Simmons
Conrad Janis Ross Turner
William Jordan Riley
Maria Richwine María Elena Holly
Amy Johnston Cindy Lou
Dick O'Neill Sol Gittler
Fred Travalena Madman Mancuso
Neva Patterson Mrs. Holly
Arch Johnson Mr. Holly
John Goff T. J.
Gloria Irizarry Mrs. Santiago
Jody Berry Engineer Sam
Richard Kennedy Preacher
Jim Beach Wilson
Gailard Sartain The Big Bopper
Albert Popwell Eddie Foster
Paul Mooney Sam Cooke
Freeman King Apollo M.C.
Stymie Beard Luther
Craig White King Curtis
Jerry Zaremba Eddie Cochran


The actors did their own singing and played their own instruments, with guitarist Jerry Zaremba overdubbing the guitar parts. Busey, in particular, was noted for recording the soundtrack music live and for losing a considerable amount of weight in order to portray the skinny Holly. According to Busey's biography, he lost 32 pounds to look more like Holly, who weighed 146 pounds at the time of his death.

The actor's accurate portrayal was aided by knowledge gained from a previous attempt to film part of the Holly life story, the ill-fated Three-Sided Coin, in which he played Crickets drummer Jerry Allison. The film was cancelled by 20th Century Fox due to pressure from Fred Bauer and his company, who had made deals with the Holly estate.[4] The screenplay of Three-Sided Coin (by Allison and Tom Drake) revealed many personal details about Holly, and Busey picked up more during off-set conversations with Allison.

While the story follows Buddy Holly from age 20 to 22 (1956 to February 1959), Busey was 33 when he played the role. Charles Martin Smith auditioned for the role of Buddy, but since Busey already had been cast, the producers cast Smith to play Ray Bob Simmons because they liked his audition. Simmons and Jesse Charles were character names used in place of Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry Allison, two of the actual Crickets (1956 to early 1958 Cricket Niki Sullivan, performing on 27 of the 32 songs Holly recorded, is not shown).

The incident in which a Buffalo disc jockey locked himself in a studio and repeatedly played the same song over and over was loosely based on real-life stunts orchestrated by disc jockey Tom Clay (and repeated a few years later by Danny Neaverth), who held up Buffalo's Shelton Square by playing Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" repeatedly from the top of a billboard, and by Joey Reynolds, who locked himself in a studio playing "Sherry" by The Four Seasons for several hours; those incidents, however, had no relation to Buddy Holly or his music.


The film had a special premiere in nine different Texas and Oklahoma cities on May 18, 1978, including Holly's hometown of Lubbock and Busey's hometown of Tulsa,[5] before opening in Los Angeles on June 14.[6]


Box office[edit]

The film earned $14.3 million on a $1.2 million budget.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four and praised Busey's "remarkable performance as Buddy Holly. If you're a fan of Holly and his music, you'll be quietly amazed at how completely Busey gets into the character."[7] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "There are a lot of actors in 'The Buddy Holly Story' — some of them very nice — but the movie is really a one-man show. It's Gary Busey's galvanizing solo performance that gives meaning to an otherwise shapeless and bland feature-length film about the American rock-and-roll star who was killed in a plane crash in 1959."[8] Gene Siskel gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "In a year in which we are inundated with films featuring rock music, 'The Buddy Holly Story' probably will turn out to be the best. That is because of Busey's galvanizing performance."[9] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The heart and soul and power of 'The Buddy Holly Story' is the uncanny, marrow-deep, robust, exhilarating, likable, superlative, overwhelmingly convincing portrayal by Gary Busey ... For once there is no lip-synching to someone else's voice, no feigning with the fingers to somebody else's strumming. Busey does it all himself, and it is one of those rare and stunning performances in which the person of the actor himself is totally lost to sight in his creation of someone else."[10] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "Gary Busey invests the title role with a personal charm so original and an emotional dedication so exhilarating that he seems to lift the material off its somewhat pedestrian feet."[11]

The Buddy Holly Story holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.3/10.[12] The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[13]

Peggy Sue Gerrow Allison Rackham, to whom the song "Peggy Sue" was written, called the film "typical Hollywood, gobbledygook fantasy".[14] Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney wasn't positive about the film either. Being interviewed and involved in the production of director Richard Spence's documentary 'The Real Story of Buddy Holly', McCartney decided after seeing the film to make a more accurate account of what happened. In a Rolling Stone interview, executive producer Ed Cohen, director Steve Rash and producer Freddy Bauer defended inaccuracies in the movie, pointing out the budget of the movie was only two million dollars. "Whatever we put up there on the screen will be the truth", commented Bauer. "Ask moviegoers who invented the telephone. They'll tell you that Don Ameche did." According to Rolling Stone, the three major complaints concerned the portrayal of Holly's family, the treatment of the Crickets and the omission of Norman Petty, Holly's producer.[14]


The film won the Academy Award for Best Adaptation Score by Joe Renzetti. Busey was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Tex Rudloff, Joel Fein, Curly Thirlwell and Willie D. Burton for Best Sound.[15]


  1. ^ Longsdorf, Amy (October 1, 2014). "'The Buddy Holly Story' is back, on Blu-ray". The Morning Call.
  2. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (June 26, 1978). "Studios Are Picking Up More Films From Independents". The New York Times. p. C18.
  3. ^ a b "The Buddy Holly Story (1978)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  4. ^ The Buddy Holly Story Details. Archived 2014-08-24 at the Wayback Machine Sony Movie Channel. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  5. ^ "Big Texas Preem: 'Buddy Holly Story' P.A.'s Plus Radio". Variety. May 10, 1978. p. 40.
  6. ^ Grant, Lee (May 17, 1978). "'Holly Story' Right in Tune". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 8.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 25, 1978). "The Buddy Holly Story". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 16, 2018 – via
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 21, 1978). "Screen: 'Buddy Holly Story'". The New York Times. p. C14. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 15, 1978). "Busey is a rock in the authentic, engrossing 'Buddy Holly'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 6.
  10. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 14, 1978). "Busey Rocks 'n' Socks 'Em as Buddy Holly". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 13.
  11. ^ Arnold, Gary (August 18, 1978). "Buddy Holly: Riveting Re-Creation Of a Pioneering Rocker". The Washington Post. p. B1.
  12. ^ "The Buddy Holly Story". Rotten Tomatoes. 18 May 1978. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  13. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Archived from the original on June 12, 2008 – via Internet Archive.
  14. ^ a b Flippo, Chet (September 21, 1978). "The Truth Behind 'The Buddy Holly Story'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  15. ^ "The 51st Academy Awards (1979) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved October 6, 2011.

External links[edit]