Gerry Andal, legendary local pitchman, country singer and business owner, died March 11 after heart surgery.

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Featuring a live cougar named Merlin in television commercials for his Burien car dealership in the early 1970s, Gerry Andal became a legendary local pitchman.

After the dealership closed, he went on to more local success leading a country band, appearing on a weekly Seattle TV show featuring Gerry Andal and the Roughriders, and running a series of restaurants at which he often played.

Mr. Andal, 67, of Arlington, died March 11 after heart surgery.

For younger generations, Mr. Andal was likely best known for riding atop Rocky, his palomino, opening fairs and rodeos by singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

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Mr. Andal said in a 2004 interview with The Seattle Times that he had grown up watching another singing cowboy, Roy Rogers, and as a child had papered his bedroom wall with comic-book covers featuring Rogers and his horse, Trigger, also a palomino.

Mr. Andal was part of a small group of businessmen — found in many regional markets — who became successful by taking to the airwaves with unusual stunts and sometimes by appearing, well, kind of loony.

The 1970s were a heyday for such commercials.

Here there was Dick Balch, the car dealer who bashed cars with a sledgehammer; Jack Roberts, who dressed in overalls and got hit with a cream pie thrown by his wife; “Low Profit” Glen Grant, who wore geeky glasses and dressed in a Superman costume; and Vern Fonk, who, unlike the others, didn’t star in his own commercials but had a manager do the part of the hyperactive spokesman.

Mr. Andal decided to use a cougar in his commercials because he had a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, which, of course, sold Mercury Cougars. His son Kevin Andal, 43, of Arlington, remembered that as a child he got to climb into the cage with the cougar.

“You had to wear hockey gear and at the very minimum had to have a helmet,” he said.

Mr. Andal’s other son, Greg Andal, 47, of Lake Tapps, said that when he was in third grade, his dad brought the cougar to his Federal Way elementary school.

The cat arrived in a cage, but was just on a leash when brought to the classroom, remembered Greg Andal:

“The cougar was young and pretty mellow. The kids pretty much had their jaws drop.”

Mr. Andal had the dealership through much of the 1970s.

Around 1978, said Greg Andal, his dad switched his interest to opening up the Longhorn Bar & Grill, just east of University Village.

He closed that in the early ’80s and opened up Gerry Andal’s Ranch Restaurant in Everett, eventually adding restaurants in Auburn and Everett.

In a 1993 Seattle Times story, Mr. Andal explained that while the restaurant business was tough, the benefit was, “I get to play places where they can never fire me.”

Mr. Andal developed a loyal following of fans.

One of them was Sherry Bodle, 51, a legal secretary from Orting, who had been going to his shows for more than three decades.

“He always made you feel special. He made you feel like you were one of his best friends,” she said.

Mr. Andal closed his three restaurants around 1998, said Greg Andal, and returned to the car business with two used-car lots in the Everett area.

Those closed in 2008 and Mr. Andal started up yet another restaurant, Gerry Andal’s Restaurant & Lounge, in Stanwood.

His family decided to shutter the restaurant after his death.

“It was formatted around Gerry and his personality and his music. Without him, we didn’t want to continue,” said Kevin Andal.

He said Mr. Andal’s death while recuperating in the hospital came as a shock because “he was remarkably vibrant.”

Kevin Andal said that in February, his dad was still playing in a hockey league for people over 35. The son said his dad complained of shortness of breath and lightheadedness while sitting on the bench at a hockey game, and he ended up having heart-valve surgery.

Mr. Andal was born April 18, 1943, in Melfort, Saskatchewan.

He got a football scholarship to attend the University of Washington in 1962 but, although keeping his scholarship, never played in a game because of two neck injuries, said Kevin Andal.

Mr. Andal earned a business administration degree from the UW, followed by a master’s in marketing from the University of Michigan. Mr. Andal married four times. He had his two sons with his first wife, Sharon Andal.

His fourth spouse, Rhonda Andal, said she met her husband 22 years ago when she was a judge at a beauty pageant and he was the emcee. They married 11 years ago, she said.

“The first minute I met Gerry, I fell in love with him,” she remembered.

Mr. Andal’s band performed a long repertoire of songs that included many country standards as well as rock oldies.

But in his 2004 interview, Mr. Andal said that his favorite song to perform was Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” the tale of a child who is scorned in school because she wears a coat stitched from rags.

Having grown up in a poor farming community, Mr. Andal said, “It just reminds me of my life … I didn’t have much, and nobody cared. We looked beyond monetary things for our satisfaction and fulfillment.”

Besides his wife and sons, Mr. Andal is survived by three sisters, Margene Brown and Valerie Andal, both of Victoria, B.C., and Shirley McAvena, of Kelowna, B.C.; a brother, Vern Andal, of Vancouver, B.C.; eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.

A public memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena in the Grand Ballroom, 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com