He attended Denver Avenue Elementary School until a polio scare prompted the family to return to Vernon. Later, in 1946, they moved to Wink, Texas. Orbison later described life in Wink as "football, oil fields, oil, grease and sand" and expressed relief that he was able to leave the desolate town. All the Orbison children were afflicted with poor eyesight; Roy used thick corrective lenses from an early age. He was not confident about his appearance and began dyeing his nearly-white hair black when he was still young.
In high school, Orbison and some friends formed a band, the Wink Westerners. They played country standards and Glenn Miller songs at local honky-tonks and had a weekly radio show on KERB in Kermit. After graduating from Wink High School, he enrolled at North Texas State College in Denton, planning to study geology so that he could secure work in the oil fields if music did not pay.
He dropped out of college to pursue music, and as a member of the Teen-Kings he recorded “Ooby Dooby” in 1955 at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico. When he rerecorded the song for Sam Phillips at Sun Records, it became his first hit. Phillips’s efforts to make Orbison a rockabilly star were unsuccessful, however, and the shy Texan (whose trademark sunglasses masked eyes the singer feared looked beady) moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he concentrated on writing songs for others, notably “Claudette” for the Everly Brothers.
At Monument Records, Orbison, no longer limited to up-tempo rockabilly numbers, recorded a series of unforgettable ballads beginning in 1960. His distinctive style flourished as he applied his incredible vocal range to lushly orchestrated three-minute romances filled with yearning and despair. “Running Scared” (1961), a delirious fantasy of romantic paranoia, epitomizes Orbison’s artistry: tension mounts in the accompaniment and in the singer’s voice as he frets that a chance encounter with his rival for his lover’s affections will cause her to leave him. The rival appears, but the woman chooses the singer, and the song ends in a crescendo of relief.
“Only the Lonely” (1960), “Crying” (1961), “It’s Over” (1964), and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (1964) were all hits, and Orbison was one of the few American rockers to maintain a place high on the pop charts during the British Invasion. After a series of personal tragedies and professional setbacks that derailed his career in the mid-1960s, Orbison made a stunning comeback in the late 1980s, partly as a result of the use of his song “In Dreams” in the film Blue Velvet. He also recorded a new solo album, Mystery Girl, his finest work in decades. Tragically, Orbison died of a heart attack only a few weeks after the release of the Wilburys’ album. Mystery Girl, released posthumously in 1989, featured the single “You Got It,” which remained in the Top Ten for 18 weeks.
On December 6, 1988 he spent the day flying model airplanes with his sons and ate dinner at his mother's home in Hendersonville. Later that day, he died of a heart attack, at the age of 52.
The parents of Roy Orbison attended a Church of Christ congregation. Orbison testified of the conflict that he faced: "They were against dancing at my church, and I was trying to play at dances. I wasn't old enough to figure out anything for myself. So I just didn't go to church. I didn't want to attend and feel uncomfortable. I went and played the dances."
A couple of years after [his wife] Claudette's death, two of Orbison's three sons died in a tragic fire which destroyed his home. In the 1970s, Orbison went back to church, at first to a Church of Christ congregation, then to a Baptist church that was also attended by other famous country singers, including Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Skeeter Davis. When asked by the media about his religious faith, his testimony was as follows: "I don't have a pure statement but I believe in Jesus Christ and try to live by the rules of morality and conduct and a certain faithfulness in all things. That helps a great deal - so does common sense. It's very important to me. Your mind is created by a higher power and common sense will often tell you what to do."
He became a member of the Traveling Wilburys, which boasted a lineup of Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne, and their debut album in 1988 landed Orbison in the Top Ten for the first time since 1964.
Orbison is regarded as a rock-and-roll pioneer and has been cited by numerous critics as one of the genre's most influential musicians, but his style is notable for how it departed from the norm. Rock and roll in the 1950s was defined by a driving backbeat, heavy guitars, and lyrical themes that glorified youthful rebellion. Few of Orbison's recordings have these characteristics. The structure and themes of his songs defied convention, and his much-praised voice and performance style were unlike any other in rock and roll. Many of his contemporaries compared his music with that of classically trained musicians, although he never mentioned any classical music influences. Peter Lehman summarized it, writing, "He achieved what he did not by copying classical music but by creating a unique form of popular music that drew upon a wide variety of music popular during his youth."
Quotes from others about the person
“Bob Dylan: "With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop. [After "Ooby Dooby"] he was now singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal ... His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it'."
Robert Plant:"The poignancy of the combination of lyric and voice was stunning. [Orbison] used drama to great effect and he wrote dramatically."”
Orbison married his 16-year old girlfriend, Claudette Frady in 1957. They had three sons together: Roy Dewayne, Anthony King and Wesley. He married for the second time to Barbara Orbison in the year of 1969 and remained married to her until his death. The couple had two children together: Roy Kelton Orbison Jr. and Alex Orbison.