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Big Tex at 70: Face-lifted and fine-tuned, the icon is ready for State Fair of Texas 2022

Nipped and tucked, and decked out in his Dickies denim best, the 55-foot cowboy is ready to greet the world again.

DALLAS — Yes, he's 70 years old. 

Yes, he's had a facelift or two. 

But after his electronics and animatronics got one last checkup on Thursday, Big Tex was officially ready to make his 2022 debut on Friday.

"Big Tex is a 55-foot tall cowboy that is in love with Texas," said Rusty Fitzgerald, the senior vice president of operations at the State Fair of Texas. We talked as sound technicians crawled in and out of the basement below the 12-foot high cowboy boots at the roundabout in front of the Tower Building that has been the perch for Big Tex for most of his time at the fair since 1952.

If, by chance, you are new to Texas or aren't steeped in Big Tex lore, that "love affair" Fitzgerald mentions started in the 1950s when soon-to-be Big Tex was just a very tall Santa Claus in Kerens, Texas, near Corsicana.

Credit: State Fair of Texas

Created as a beacon to bring people to Kerens for the Christmas shopping season, he fell into disrepair as his novelty faded. That's how the State Fair, having just adopted a red-checked shirt cowboy named "Tex" as their mascot, was able to negotiate the purchase of the aging Santa for just $750.

Credit: State Fair of Texas

And in various iterations over the years, with one makeover and improvement after another, Big Tex has stood as a sentinel over the fair. 

His 60th birthday was such a celebrated big deal that WFAA's Cynthia Izaguirre and Greg Fields were lifted into the air in a crane to personally deliver a birthday cake and to take part in a friendly conversation with the icon with the booming baritone voice.

Credit: WFAA

But, just one week later, it happened.

"I never understood how important he was until the day he caught on fire," Fitzgerald said.

Oct. 19, 2012 was the day an electrical short caught a Big Tex boot and pant leg on fire.

"Got a rather tall cowboy. All his clothes burnt off," a firefighter said in a now infamous radio call.

By the time the fire was out, Big Texas was pretty much a total loss.

"And as we were going out, people were crying, they had their hands over their hearts. And that made a big impression on me right there that the people of Texas care about that big cowboy," Fitzgerald said.

Credit: WFAA

But the big cowboy returned the next year. New clothes, a now 95-gallon hat, a friendly facelift, and this year his Dickies brand shirt decked out in white fringe blowing in a south Dallas breeze.

"Big Tex can look left, he can look right. He can wink he can blink. He can nod, he turn his head and can look left, right. So Big Tex does a lot," Fitzgerald said of the now 70-year-old icon.

But some people, including someone at my house, are sometimes scared by the big Texan with the booming baritone voice.

"He used to look pretty scary," Fitzgerald admits of the 1950s and 1960s version of Big Tex. "He had a big wink and a big hook nose. And he's kind of softened up over the past 70 years. He has a smile on his face and he's friendly. So she doesn't need to be scared. Come on out."

Credit: WFAA

Because the nipped and tucked and decked-out-in-his-denim-best cowboy is ready to greet the world again.

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