Allen, destined for stardom in Hollywood westerns and television, was born in Willcox on December 31, 1920. When he was very young, his family had moved to a ranch outside the town. There, tragically, Allens older brother got bitten by a rattlesnake, dying before the family could get him to the hospital in Willcox. Distraught, Rex Allens mother insisted the family move back into town, closer to medical care.
Allen discovered a love of music when he received a Sears and Roebuck mail-order guitar. When his dad would start playing his fiddle, Allen played the guitar right by his side. He spent his Saturdays playing for tips at the towns barbershop. At night he would play with his father at local dances. He began to sing professionally in the 1940s, a move that eventually led to his acting career. His first film, Arizona Cowboy, was released in 1950. He starred in the television series, Frontier Doctor, in the mid-1950s. His resonant voice landed him a job as the narrator for more than 100 Walt Disney TV shows and movies.
In 1989, the residents of Willcox, proud of their native son, opened up the Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame. The museum, in the front part of the building, is dedicated to the life history of Allen, beginning with his Willcox childhood and following through to his Hollywood career. Allens western and personal memorabilia as well as his sequined cowboy suits, his boots, his saddles, guitars, photographs, movie posters and even a buggy used in one of his films are on display. The Cowboy Hall of Fame, in the back of the building, pays tribute to respected individuals in the regions cattle industry. Historic photographs provide an interesting contrast between glamorous Hollywood cowboys and real-life working cowboys and ranchers.
Allens horse, a stallion named Koko, was originally selected for Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, but Rogers decided that the animal was just too big for his diminutive wife. Allen, on the other hand, fell in love with Koko the minute he saw him. When Koko died, Allen had him buried in Hollywood, where he could stay close to his beloved horse. When Allen moved back to his hometown of Willcox, he had the remains of Koko reburied in Railroad Park, across the street from the museum. The horses grave marker is located next to a larger-than-life bronze statue of Allen. In the chest of the statue is an exact replica of the human heart, which the legendary silver screen cowboy had custom-made. He explained to the residents of his small community that the bronze heart represented his heart, which would always remain in Willcox.
Rex Allen died in Tuscon, Arizona on December 17, 1999 of a massive coronary, causing him to collapse in his driveway. He suffered additional injuries when his caretaker accidentally ran over him in the driveway of his home.
His ashes were scattered at the same small park where his horse Koko is buried, near the Rex Allen Museum and Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame in Willcox where most of his memorabilia is on display. His presence is often felt there, say residents of Willcox. Allen never forgot his roots.