Country music and America go hand and hand. There are many legends in the genre, like Hank Williams and Dottie West, who passed away during their prime. Other legends may have been a little older, but they too died before they finished what they started in the country music world. From country crooner Eddie Rabbitt’s battle with cancer to the plane crash that took Patsy Cline’s life, these country music powerhouses died before their time.
Eddie Rabbitt, 56, Helped Pioneer Country Crossover Songs
Eddie Rabbit was originally a songwriter for icons such as Elvis Presley and Ronnie Milsap before he started gaining recognition for his own voice. In the ’70s, he kick-started the country crossover genre and had hits such as “Suspicions” and “Every Which Way but Loose,” which was featured on the soundtrack of the film of the same name.
He had popular duets like “Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers)” with Juice Newton and “You and I” with Crystal Gayle. He also starred on two soap operas before his death in 1998 from lung cancer. He was just 56 years old.
Chris LeDoux, 56, Lost His Battle With Cancer
Chris LeDoux recorded a whopping 36 albums during his career, although several he released himself. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) awarded him two gold and one platinum album certifications. He was also a Grammy nominee. Popular songs include “This Cowboy’s Hat,” “Cadillac Ranch,” and “Look at You Girl.”
LeDoux was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis in 2000. He received a liver transplant later that year. He released two more albums before being diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in 2004. He died of cancer on March 9, 2005. He was just 56 years old.
Patsy Cline’s 30-Year Life Was Tragically Cut Short
Patsy Cline was popular in the ’50s and ’60s and has long been considered one of the 20th century’s most important and influential musical artists. Cline’s songs include chart-toppers like “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” and “Sweet Dreams.”
On March 5, 1963, Cline died in a plane crash on her way home to Nashville from Kansas City. The pilot was not trained in instrument flying. Interestingly, the pilot’s instructor had also trained country music star Jim Reeves, who crashed his plane the next year. Cline was just 30 years old.
Jim Reeves, 40, Died In a Plane Crash
Jim Reeves, also known as “Gentleman Jim,” was known for his Nashville sound, which combined older country-style music with popular songs. His records were big in the ’50s and ’60s. Today, his records remain highly valued among collectors, who will pay high-dollar for originals. Hits include “He’ll Have To Go,” “Adios Amigos” and “I Love You Because.”
On July 31, 1964, Reeves flew with his business partner from Arkansas to Nashville, Tennesse, in a single-engine Beechcraft airplane. Reeves was the pilot. The pair got stuck in a terrible thunderstorm, and the plane crashed. Reeves was just 40 years old.
Hank Williams, 29, Was One of Country Music’s Founding Fathers
Hank Williams Sr. is a legendary country star having recorded 35 singles that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart. Eleven of these singles went to number one. Some of his most popular hits include “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin,'” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Many stars were influenced by Williams, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bob Dylan. But Williams struggled with alcoholism and prescription drug abuse due to back problems. He died suddenly on New Year’s Day in 1953 when he was just 29 years old. An autopsy blamed “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.”
Hank Williams’ Son Carries On His Dad’s Legacy
When Hank Williams Sr. died, his son Hank Jr. was only four years old. Hank Jr. launched his own country music career, and it was inevitable that people would compare him to his dad – one of the music genre’s founding fathers. Hank Jr. started off his career by singing his father’s songs.
In 1998, Hank Jr. covered his father’s song “Tear in my Beer.” He put a special twist on the song by combing two recordings so it appeared that he and his father were singing a duet. Hank. Jr. also recorded a music video where he sang alongside his father.
Keith Whitley, 33, Couldn’t Stay Away From the Bottle
Keith Whitley recorded just two albums during his career, but he had 12 singles on the Billboard country charts during his lifetime, and an additional seven following his death. The country crooner had numerous top hits including “When You Say Nothing at All,” “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin’.”
But offstage, Whitley struggled with alcoholism for years. In 1989, he died of alcohol poisoning at his home in Tennessee. The medical examiner determined his blood alcohol concentration level was equal to 20 one-ounce shots of 100-proof whiskey. He was just 33 years old.
Dottie West, 59, Didn’t Realize the Extent of Her Injuries Following a Car Crash
Dottie West was the first female in country music to win a Grammy award. She burst onto the scene in the ’60s and won Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Here Comes My Baby Back Again” in 1965. She was most known for her duets with Kenny Rogers, which included hits “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “All I Ever Need Is You,” and “What Are We Doin’ in Love.”
West died from complications from a car accident on September 4, 1991. After the crash West felt okay, not knowing she had internal injuries. She died on the operating table a few days later. She was 59 years old.
Troy Gentry, 50, Perished In a Helicopter Crash
Kentucky native Troy Gentry founded Montgomery Gentry with his pal Eddie Montgomery in the ’90s. The duo had a southern rock sound and frequently teamed up with musical greats, including Charlie Daniels, Toby Keith, and members of The Allman Brothers Band. Their six studio albums produced more than 20 singles with hits like “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Lucky Man,” and “Roll with Me.”
Gentry died in a helicopter crash on September 8, 2017, while touring Medford, New Jersey. He and Eddie were scheduled to perform in the area that evening. The cause of the crash was pilot error. Gentry was just 50 years old.
Daryle Singletary, 46, Got a Little Help From Randy Travis
Daryle Singletary released six albums during his career and produced hit songs like “I Let Her Lie,” “Amen Kind of Love”, and “Too Much Fun.” Singletary grew up in Georgia and sang gospel music as a child. He started taking vocal classes as a teenager before moving to Nashville in 1990.
He eventually became a demo singer, and one of his songs, “An Old Pair of Shoes,” was recorded by Randy Travis. Travis helped Singletary by introducing him to his management team, which led to Singletary’s first record deal. He died on February 12, 2018, from a blood clot. He was 46 years old.
Conway Twitty, 59, Is Most Recognized for Hit Song ‘Hello Darlin”
Conway Twitty was multifarious. In addition to country music, he also sang rock and roll, R&B, and pop songs. He was largely known for his duets with Loretta Lynn in the early to mid-’70s. Interestingly, he was never a member of the Grand Ole Opry. “Hello Darlin'” was one of his most popular songs.
Twitty died on June 4, 1993. He got sick during a performance in Missouri and underwent emergency surgery but sadly, died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His final studio album, Final Touches, was released two months after his death. Twitty was just 59 years old.
Tammy Wynette, 55, Wrote the Hit ‘Stand By Your Man’
Tammy Wynette was one of country music’s biggest-selling and best-known female artists. Her hit, “Stand by Your Man,” is one of the top-selling singles by a woman in the genre. She had 20 number-one songs during the ’60s and ’70s. She and Dolly Parton are credited with cementing women’s presence in country music.
Wynette suffered from many health problems over the years and was frequently hospitalized. She underwent at least 15 operations and became addicted to pain pills. She died on April 6, 1988, at her home from a blood clot in her lung. She was just 55 years old.
Joey Feek, 40, Was Still Working Her Way Up Professionally
Country singer Joey Feek moved to Nashville in the late ’90s and connected with LeAnn Rimes’s father, Wilbur, and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn. She recorded a solo album in 2005 titled Strong Enough to Cry, but it wasn’t released until after her death. She formed the duo Joey + Rory with her husband in 2008.
Feek was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. It later metastasized to her colon. She underwent surgery to remove a three-inch tumor, but doctors were unable to completely rid her of cancer. She was given a terminal diagnosis and died on March 4, 2016. She was just 40 years old.
Marty Robbins, 57, Had a 40-Year Career
Marty Robbins was a race car driver as well as a hugely popular and successful country and western singer. His career spanned nearly four decades. He received a Grammy Award for his 1959 hit and best-known song “El Paso.” Hit other chart-toppers include songs “Don’t Worry,” “Big Iron,” and “Devil Woman.”
Robbins had heart problems and battled cardiovascular disease for years. He had three heart attacks. After undergoing quadruple coronary bypass surgery, he passed away. He died on December 8, 1982, in Nashville and was just 57 years old.
Gram Parsons, 27, Fell Victim to His Vices
Gram Parsons was a hugely influential county and rock musician, known for creating what he dubbed “Cosmic American Music,” a mix of country, rhythm and blues, soul, folk, and rock. He worked with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He was also a successful solo artist with chart-topping hits like “Return of the Grievous Angel,” “Hickory Wind,” “Brass Buttons” and “Love Hurts.”
Parsons took a lot of drugs for recreational purposes, and on September 19, 1973, he died in a hotel room in California. The official cause of death was an overdose of morphine and alcohol.
Friends Stole Gram Parsons’ Dead Body
To fulfill Parson’s last wishes, his friends stole his body from Los Angeles International Airport and took it to Joshua Tree National Park, one of his favorite spots. The men tried to cremate Parsons by pouring gasoline into his coffin and lighting it on fire. Police eventually arrested the men and fined them $750 (there was no law against stealing a dead body).
Parsons’ stepfather Bob had planned a private memorial in New Orleans for Parsons without inviting the singer’s friends and colleagues. In the end, what was left of Parson’s remains were buried in Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie, Louisiana.
John Denver, 53, Crashed His Plane In California
John Denver was one of the most popular and best-selling artists of the ’70s. He was primarily a folk artist but was also known for his activism and humanitarian efforts. His top songs include hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Rocky Mountain High.”
Denver liked flying planes, but in 1996 the Federal Aviation Administration revoked his license due to several drunk driving arrests. Denver had over 2,700 hours of flying experience, yet crashed his plane on October 12, 1997, in Monterey Bay, California. He was not under the influence and died due to blunt force trauma.
Mindy McCready, 37, Struggled To Find Happiness
Mindy McCready took her own life at the age of 37. She recorded five studio albums between 1995 and 2013. Her debut album, Ten Thousand Angels, was certified platinum, and her follow-up, If I Don’t Stay the Night, was certified gold. She had 12 singles on the Billboard country singles charts.
McCready had serious personal demons and attempted to take her own life on several occasions. The father of her second child, David Wilson, took his own life in 2012. The following month, McCready did the same.
Up-And-Comer Justin Carter, 35, Died While Making a Music Video
Justin Carter was an up-and-coming country star who died while filming a music video. The 35-year-old singer accidentally shot himself. His mother Cindy McClellan told Fox News that a gun in Carter’s pocket “went off and caught my son in the corner of his eye.”
She added, “He was a wonderful artist. He was the voice, he was the total package and we’re trying to keep his legend [alive].” The family set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral expenses and to transport his body from Houston to San Antonio for burial. Carter had two young daughters, Dixie and Kaylee.
Justin Carter’s Death Isn’t Without Controversy
Carter was signed with Triple Threat Management and was scheduled to tour 10 states. His latest single, “Love Affair,” dropped on March 9, 2019. Mark Atherton with Triple Threat Management said in a statement, “Justin had a potential to, you know, in our eyes, and a lot of people’s eyes, to be the next Garth Brooks.”
Atherton did not release any other information about Carter’s death. There was an outpouring of support for Carter’s family after he died, and his family has been very thankful for the kind words. Others, however, have criticized Carter’s use of a loaded gun during a music video shoot.
Jeff Austin Died Unexpectedtly in 2019
One of the co-founders of the Yonder Mountain String Band, Jeff Austin was a bluegrass musician who grew up in Illinois. He formed YMSB in 1998 after meeting his future band mates at a club. He also formed the Jeff Austin Band and released a solo album, The Simple Truth.
He continued to play music up until his unexpected death on June 24, 2019, at the age of 45. Although it wasn’t announced how he died, a statement posted on Facebook noted that he was a “dear friend whose music touched the lives of many.”
Neal Casal’s Tragic End
Neal Casal was a singer-songwriter hailing from New Jersey. He first gained recognition playing lead guitar for Rickey Medlocke’s Blackfoot from 1988 until 1993. He also played in the Cardinals, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Hard Working Americans, The Skiffle Players, GospelbeacH, and Circles Around the Sun.
Outside of music, Casal had a passion for photography and took the photos that would appear on album covers. On August 26, 2019, Casal tragically took his own life at the age of 50.
Kylie Rae Harris Died In A Car Wreck
Artist Kylie Rae Harris was only 30 years old when she tragically died in a three-car-crash in New Mexico. Hailing from Texas, she was a talented singer-songwriter who was in the Taos area for a show.
She had released her debut album All the Right Reasons in 2010, followed by an EP, Taking It Back in 2013. She’s released her last self titled EP in March 2019, shortly before her death on September 4, 2019. Harris was survived by her daughter.
Lari White Had An Impressive Career
Country artist Lari White had three top 10 hits during her music career: “That’s My Baby,” “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love), and “Now I Know”. She started her career when she won You Can Be A Star talent competition in 1998, airing on The Nashville Network.
She also appeared in several movies, including Cast Away and Country Strong. White was married to Nashville-based songwriter Chuck Cannon with whom she had three children. Sadly, White passed away on January 23, 2018, after battling advanced peritoneal cancer. She was 52.
Randy Scruggs’ Death Was Unexpected
Randy Scruggs was a talented man in the music industry. He wore several hats, as a music producer, songwriter, and guitarist. His talent was recognized early, and he recorded his first song at the age of 13. Scruggs was awarded four Grammy’s and was named Musician of the Year twice by Country Music Association Awards.
Hit songs he’s written include “We Danced Anyway,” “Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart Breaks),” and “Love Has No Right.” After battling a short illness, he passed away on April 17, 2018, at the age of 64.
Kind-Hearted Brandon Dean Jenkins Died at 48 Years Old
Brandon Dean Jenkins was a big name in Oklahoma’s Red Dirt country music community. He was a figure in the local music scene around Oklahoma State University and collaborated with musicians including Mike McClure, Cody Canada, and Stoney LaRue.
During his career, he toured throughout Oklahoma and Texas and had some hits on the radio. He also gave back to the Red Dirt Relief Fund to help artists who were less fortunate. On February 21, 2018, Jenkins was hospitalized in Nashville and underwent surgery. He died of complications at the age of 48.
Mike Kennedy Of George Strait’s Ace In The Hole Band Died At 59
You may recognize Mike Kennedy as the drummer of George Strait’s band, Ace in the Hole. He played with the band and went on tour for over 20 years. Kennedy’s death was unexpected, as he died in a car accident on August 31, 2018, at the age of 59.
Upon news of his death, George Strait shared, “Our hearts are broken. It’s going to be very strange not being able to look over and see him there in his spot on stage and very emotional as well I’m sure for all of us and also his fans. The band will never be the same. A part of us is gone forever…”
Greg Trooper Passed Away After Battling Pancreatic Cancer
Greg Trooper was well-known in Americana and folk music. He wrote songs that were covered by artists including Vince Gill, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, and Robert Earl Keene. He moved around from New York to Texas, then to Kansas, and formed his band The Greg Trooper Band in the 1990s.
Just two days after his 61st birthday, Trooper lost his battle to pancreatic cancer, and passed away on January 15, 2017.
Jimmy LaFave Fought A Rare Form Of Cancer
Jimmy LaFave was one of the founding musicians of Red Dirt music and was one of the most well-known musical artists around the Oklahoma music scene. He made the move to Austin, Texas, where he dug into Americana, country, and folk music.
In 2017, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, and has recorded 15 albums. His single Cimarron Manifesto reached No. 1 on the Americana Music Association album chart. After being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, LaFave passed away at the age of 61, on May 21, 2017.
Greg Allman Is One Of The Greatest Singers In History
Although he only lived to be 69 years old, songwriter-musician Greg Allman lived a full life. One of the members of the Allman Brothers Band, Allman got his start in 1960 and played music until the time of his death. He was recognized for his soulful voice and was often referred to as a Southern Rock pioneer.
He won a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Game. He was also named number 70 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Allman passed away in Georgia on May 27, 2017.