10 Country Legends Who Died Before Their Time
The death of Keith Whitley at the age of 33 in May of 1989 reminds us of all the legends in country music that left us before we were ready to see them go. Some artists were victims of a tragedy, some lost a battle to bad health and others played a role in their own sad destiny. Regardless, here’s our list of 10 talented country musicians who left the world with a song left to sing.
Conway Twitty broke through with 1958’s rock 'n' roll smash 'It's Only Make Believe.' In 1965, he went country fulltime, giving us hits like 'Hello Darlin'' and 'Tight Fittin’ Jeans.' During his lifetime, he made history by having more No. 1 hits than any artist in history. Conway became ill after a show in Branson, Mo. and died of an abdominal aneurysm on June 5, 1993 at the age of 59.
While on her way to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, the ‘Country Sunshine’ singer found herself stuck on the side of the road when her Cadillac stalled. An 81-year-old neighbor spotted Dottie West and offered her a ride. Fearful she was running late, she urged the driver to speed, and he lost control of the vehicle while exiting at the Opryland ramp at 55 miles-per-hour. West, only 58-years-old at the time, underwent several surgeries but died on the operating table on Sept. 4, 1991.
Marty Robbins racked up a string of hits in the '50s with 'Singing The Blues' and 'A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation).' In May of 1982, Marty was in the Top 10 with 'Some Memories Just Won’t Die.' In October of that year, Billboard recognized him with the Artist Resurgence Award. Then, just seven weeks before he passed, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The ‘El Paso’ storytelling legend died of heart failure on Dec. 8, 1982 at the age of 57.
Garth Brooks helped Chris LeDoux reach the mainstream by dropping his name in the hit 'Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).' A successful rodeo performer, he built a cult following on the circuit selling his own self-produced albums. LeDoux was signed to Capitol Records in 1991 and gave us hits like 'Watcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy' and 'Cadillac Ranch.' LeDoux died of liver cancer on March 9, 2005 at the age of 56. Brooks honored him by recording the song 'Good Ride Cowboy.'
Eddie Rabbitt started his career writing 'Kentucky Rain' for Elvis and 'Pure Love' for Ronnie Milsap. Soon, he was singing his own smash hits 'I Love a Rainy Night' and 'Drivin' My Life Away.' Consistently recording and touring in the final stages of his life, Eddie kept his battle with lung cancer private. As a matter of fact, only a few immediate family members even knew of his passing until the funeral was over. Eddie, 56 at the time, died on May 7, 1998.
The First Lady of Country Music died on April 6, 1998. In 1999, Tammy Wynette’s body was exhumed in an attempt to settle a dispute. After no autopsy was conducted and the cause of death was listed as a blood clot, her daughters grew suspicious and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor and husband/manager, George Richey, claiming they were responsible for her death at the age of 55. The coroner declared that she died of a cardiac arrhythmia. In May 1999, George Richey was dropped from the wrongful death lawsuit.
Since Jim Reeves first appeared at No. 1 with 'Mexican Joe' in 1953, he placed 46 songs on the Billboard charts before he died in a plane crash in Nashville. More impressively, his widow worked with RCA Records to keep his music alive, and he racked up 33 posthumous hits, including the No. 1 songs 'Distant Drums' and 'Blue Side of Lonesome.' The crooner of 'He’ll Have to Go' was piloting his own plane when he crashed at the age of 40 on July 31, 1964.
Keith Whitley’s star was on the rise when he “drank himself to death” on May 9, 1989. At the time, Whitley was enjoying his third No. 1 single with 'I'm No Stranger to the Rain,' ironically a song about overcoming depression and alcoholism. 'Miami, My Amy' became his first Top 20 hit, leading the way for 'When You Say Nothing at All' and 'Don't Close Your Eyes.' Whitley was just three years into a marriage with Lorrie Morgan when he died at 33-years-old.
Patsy Cline only had nine songs on the Billboard country charts before her death in a plane crash on March 5, 1963 at age 30. Like Jim Reeves, Cline’s music lived on with several chart entries after her death, including 'Sweet Dreams' and 'Always.' However, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. It is reported that Cline actually had premonitions of her death and revealed them to close friends Loretta Lynn, Dottie West and June Carter in 1962.
Hank Williams, Sr.
Although he died at the tender age of 29, Hank Williams, Sr. did live to see himself become a major country music star when 33 of his songs hit the charts while he was still alive. However, it seemed like no one at the time would realize the impact his songwriting would have on American music in the years to follow. He was born with a spinal deformity, spina bifida occulta, that would lead to his addiction to painkillers. The lethal combination of alcohol and prescribed drugs ended his life on January 1, 1953.