Twenty-five years ago, Lane Frost died in a bull riding accident during Cheyenne Frontier Days. His life – and death – changed rodeo forever. The Wrangler Network presents a special tribute to Lane Frost “25 years in 25 days” to mark rodeo’s loss of one its most iconic figures. Check each day through July 30 for stories, photos and videos.
‘A world champion in life’ by Kendra Santos
Photos: Sue Rosoff
The loss of Lane Frost 25 years ago left a hole in the heart of rodeo that may never heal.
Lane was the Western world’s answer to Elvis. He had it all – world-class talent, movie star looks, magnetic charisma, a businessman’s brain, a cowboy’s guts and grit.
Everybody loved Lane, and it had little to do with any of those things. People loved Lane because he was the world’s nicest guy. He thought of everyone he met – every awkward awe-struck kid, silly teenage girl and retired rancher – as a friend. Lane looked every one of them in the eye and always gave them more time than he had to spare.
His best friend and traveling partner, Tuff Hedeman, loved to tease Lane about being a politician. Lane’s God-like popularity usually left Tuff and the rest of their buddy group waiting in the van while he spent quality time with his fan-friends.
But Tuff loved Lane as much as anyone. And in time, he learned to appreciate how great those traits made life for Lane. These days, if you step back and watch Hedeman work a crowd, you’ll see a lot of Lane in him. Tuff learned from Lane to truly enjoy and appreciate people. Lane lives in Tuff now.
In the Beginning:
Lane Clyde Frost was born Oct. 12, 1963 in La Junta, Colo. Elsie Frost gave birth to him – the family’s second child – while Clyde Frost was off qualifying for another National Finals Rodeo in bareback riding.
Lane was all but born with boots on. He was just 5 months old when his mom first saw his interest in bull riding.
“Clyde always liked to leave the rodeo early so we could get out ahead or the crowd,” Elsie recalled. “I had noticed that Lane would sleep through most of the rodeo, but when the bull riding would start he would wake up and really start watching what was going on. This particular time (at the San Antonio Livestock Exposition and Rodeo) I got up to go when there were still four or five bull riders left. I had Robin (Lane’s big sister) by the hand and was carrying Lane, with a diaper bag and purse slung over one shoulder.
“As we walked out of the seating area, Lane started to cry and looked back towards the arena. I thought, ‘He acts like he wants to stay and watch the bull riding, but no, he’s not old enough to know what’s going on.’ Just to see what be would do, I turned around and walked back in where be could see the arena and what was going on. He stopped crying immediately.
“At such a young age, I attributed it to the fact that the bells on the bull ropes made a lot of noise. But I was wrong. There was just something about bull riding that fascinated Lane.”
The tall, lanky kid who loved to work and always stayed busy, cut his bull-riding teeth on calves at the family ranch.
“We always had a lot of dairy calves around that the kids fed on bottles,” Clyde remembers. “One day, when Lane was 7 or 8, I walked by the corral and saw him sitting on one of the calves, kicking it and trying to get it to go. I wondered how he’d gotten that baling twine (his makeshift bull rope) on him, so I watched awhile without Lane knowing I was there.
“He’d run a calf into the corner of the corral, where he’d made a ‘v’ by tying up an old panel. Lane stood behind the calf, so be couldn’t back out, and held the panel with one band while he put the string around the calf with his other hand. How he kept from getting kicked I will never know. It was hot out there, and sweat was dripping off of Lane’s head. He finally got the string pulled up and tied, than slipped up on the calf’s back from behind and kicked the panel out of the way with his foot. The calf moved a couple steps, then stopped. With his free hand high in the air, Lane started kicking to try to get him to move.
“Lane still didn’t know I was there, and I couldn’t resist telling my dog to ‘sic-em.’ The calf bellered and jumped about twice, and Lane hit the dirt. As he started to get up, his eyes were wide with surprise, and be asked, ‘What happened?’ Than he saw me and figured out what happened. He said, ‘That was fun, Dad, let’s do it again.'”
Clyde built Lane a wooden bucking chute, which Lane painted red. On weekends, Elsie drove the kids to the Junior rodeos while Clyde stayed home to work.
The Frost family, which by then also included Lane’s little brother, Cody, moved from Utah to Lane, Okla. when Lane was 14. By then, he was riding with a rhythm that made the old timers sit up and raise an eyebrow. Back then, his strongest challenger was a clumsy kid from El Paso, Texas, with double-pane Coke-bottle glasses. His real name was Richard Hedeman, but everyone just called him Tuff.
“I met Lane when I was a junior in high school at the 1980 high school finals in Yakima, Wash.,” Tuff recalls. “We both made the short go there. Everybody was already talking about Lane Frost. I thought, ‘So what?’ He was a pretty boy. I wanted to dislike him when I met him. He was better than me and he was the most popular guy in the world. He was cool. But he was really nice.
“Lane ended up third or fourth, and I got drilled by a Flying Five bull. He hit me in the head, I hung up and he knocked the lenses out of my glasses.”
They met again at the 1981 high school finals in Douglas, Wyo., and nothing had changed.
“By then, he was even better known than the year before,” Tuff said. “He won first and I won second. We still didn’t talk too much. Nothing more than, ‘Hi, how you doing?’ I was intimidated by him. The bottom line was he was a lot prettier than me and he rode a lot better than me.”
Lane stepped up to the big time and joined the PRCA after graduating from Atoka High School in 1982.
“He hit the trail, which was what I really wanted to do,” remembers Tuff, who was going to college at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, on a rodeo scholarship at the time. “And as soon as he cracked out on his PRCA permit he scored 90 on a bull they called Dillinger. He kicked butt and got his card.
“Meanwhile, I was starving to death in college. I ate a hamburger a day and couldn’t afford the cheese. I had to pay my entry fees after the rodeo because I didn’t have the money when it started. I was dirt poor. I had to win.”
Tuff scratched and clawed for two and a half years before filling his permit. He finally got the job done, and actually did it with earnings in saddle bronc riding at his hometown rodeo in El Paso. He, too, was a PRCA rookie in 1983, but only had the means to make it to about 30 rodeos.
Lane barely missed qualifying for the NFR as a PRCA rookie, and finished 16th in the world that year. But his confidence and career caught a gear in 1984, when he and Tuff both qualified for their first Finals after splitting gas to a few rodeos. They were the oddest of odd couples. In fact, the only thing they had in common was that they were big-time winners.
Their buddy group, which also included Jim Sharp and, for a time, Cody Lambert, was unstoppable. When the four pulled into the contestant parking lot, the big question was in what order the secretary should write their checks. When Cody Lambert hooked up with then-rookie Ty Murray in 1988, Clint Branger was the fourth member of the Frost-Hedeman-Sharp powerhouse. But Lambert end Murray often entered rodeos for the same days, so the wolfpack just gained fangs.
During their reign, these guys owned the event. Hedeman won the world championship in 1986, Frost won it in ’87, Sharp took his turn in ’88, and Hedeman regained the title in ’89. No one who watched will ever forget Hedeman riding his title-clinching last bull at the ’89 Finals, eight seconds for the championship, which he dedicated to his fallen friend, and another eight for Frost.
Clyde, Elsie and Kellie Frost (Lane married Kellie on Jan. 5, 1985. Kellie has since remarried and lives in Texas with her current husband, NFR team roper Mike Macy, and their two children.) were there to see him do it, and to accept the 1989 Coors Fans’ Favorite Cowboy Award on Lane’s behalf in the Thomas and Mack Center Arena after the final performance.
In 1986, Lane rode nine of 10 bulls at the Finals and won the NFR average. The only bull that got him down was John Growney and Don Kish’s notorious bull Red Rock.
In 1988, the year after Lane won the world bull riding championship and Red Rock was voted the PRCA Bucking Bull of the Year, they faced off in the “Challenge of the Champions,” a seven-ride match series. Red Rock had actually been retired after the 1987 season, having gone unridden in 309 attempts, but the stellar bull was brought back for one last encore performance. Frost came out on top, four rides to three, and made headlines again.
“Lane was so nice to everybody that it confused a lot of people about how tough he was physically and mentally,” Lambert said. “They didn’t think anyone that nice could be that stubborn or physically tough enough to ride with the kind of pain he did at times.
“What they didn’t realize is that to ride bulls being tough’s not optional; it’s a requirement. You’ve got to be fearless. If you have any fear inside you anywhere you’ve got to block it out. Lane could do that.”
Frost suffered a punctured lung at the rodeo in Ogden, Utah, when he was a rookie. He was staying with his uncle and hated to bother him for a ride to the hospital in the middle of the night. So he politely gutted it out, and about bled to death. That was Lane.
The Day the Music Died
Aaron Watson July In Cheyenne: Lane Frost Tribute
July 30, 1989 was a cold, dark day at the “Daddy of ’em All” in Cheyenne. It was time for Cheyenne Frontier Days’ short round, and all eyes were focused on the 25-year-old Lane when he nodded his head.
Lane’s last ride got off to a pretty typical start. He scored 85 points on Bad Company Rodeo’s Takin’ Care of Business to place in the round and finish third in the event’s average race. But when Lane landed in the bull’s path, the bull hit Lane in the back with his horn.
To watch the videotape of the ride now is to wonder if the protective vest that Lambert has since devised would have saved him. It seems likely.
Still, Lane had limped – if not walked – away from wrecks that looked many times worse. He was flattened by the hit, but adrenaline got him back on his feet. He looked toward the chutes and motioned for help. Then the lights went out.
“I was standing in the arena,” Tuff remembers. “When he waved at people to come in and help him I knew it was bad.” Tuff said, “Lane had the kind of toughness that if he had two broken legs he’d have walked out of the arena. Lane’s pain tolerance was very high.”
The race to save Lane was on. Cheyenne’s emergency medical team rushed him into the arena-side first-aid room. He didn’t respond, but no one was ready to give up. They loaded Lane into an ambulance and, with Tuff riding shotgun, tore out of there toward the hospital.
“I was hoping and praying – a million things were going through my head – but I knew it was bad,” Tuff said. “They tried to revive him in the ambulance, and kept going in the emergency room. But Lane was gone before he left the arena.”
After trying every procedure known to man, the doctors called it. The medical staff pulled all the plugs and, heads down, cleared out. Once again, it was down to Lane and Tuff.
“I went over and gave him a hug and a kiss and said, ‘See ya,’” Tuff remembers.
Then he went to find a phone. It was time to call Clyde and Elsie.
Tuff returned to the competitive arena right away. But he was lost without Lane.
“I was back on the trail by that weekend,” he said. “I went to Casper, got on and was 80 points. But I was in another world. I got off and walked back behind the chutes. I sat down by myself back behind the pens and cried for what seemed like forever.
“My first thought after losing Lane was that I didn’t want to do anything. I thought, ‘What’s the point?’ But sitting around asking ‘why?’ wouldn’t have helped anything. I asked myself, ‘If I got killed, would I want my friends to quit what they live for because of me?’ And I thought, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Lane had a great life. He did exactly what he wanted to do. Nobody gets out of here alive, and he made a pretty great exit. He kicked butt and took names at a great rodeo, then he left.”
The morning after he died, the Cheyenne Frontier Days committee chartered a plane to take Lane home. Tuff and Cody went with him.
“It was the longest flight of my life,” Tuff said. “There was my best friend in the world laying right next to me in a bag. Losing Lane is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my whole life. I still think about him every day.”
Lane left way too soon. But he lives on, larger than life, in the minds and memories of millions.
Lane and Red Rock were immortalized with induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1994, Hollywood remembered him with a big screen tribute called “8 Seconds.” Lane’s family and close friends were honored, despite creative license that especially missed the mark when it came to Clyde and roughstock rider Cody Lambert. In real life, Clyde busted with pride and love for Lane, as opposed to the cold character portrayed in the movie. And, just to set the record straight, Cody’s as smart and dry-witted funny as they come. But he’s no poet.
After Lane’s death, his friends carried the torch in his honor. Bull rider Jim Sharp went on to win a second world championship in 1990, and Hedeman won his third world title in 1991, after welcoming his first son, Robert Lane, into the world that summer.
Lane was buried on Aug. 2, 1989 at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hugo, Okla., about 40 miles southeast of Lane. He was laid to rest beside Freckles Brown, his adopted grandpa, mentor and fellow world champion bull rider.
“Lane really idolized Freckles,” Elsie said. “He hung on his every word, be it baling hay or riding bulls.”
Lane’s headstone is carved in the shape of a world championship buckle. The back side includes a portrait and riding photo, and a personal, hand etched note from Kellie. But it’s the front side of that buckle that says it all: “Lane Frost: A champion in the arena. A champion in life.”
Updated from original 1999 story.
Posted with permission of the ProRodeo Sports News, official magazine of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.