Patsy Cline's strange death, on this day in country music history
On this day in history 1963, Patsy Cline performed her last show ever before dying at the age of 30. But it was the events that happened in the ensuing weeks (and years) that were truly notable... and, well, weird.
On March 3, 1963, Patsy Cline traveled to Kansas City to perform three shows as part of a benefit for the family of disc jockey Cactus Jack Call, who'd recently died in a car accident. Sharing the stage with her that day were such notable performers as George Jones, Billy Walker, Dottie West, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Friends West, June Carter Cash and Loretta Lynn have all since recalled Cline telling them in the months preceding this performance that she felt a sense of impending doom, and didn't expect she would live much longer. She even began distributing her personal items to friends, and making plans for her will and the care of her children.
Cline was no stranger to grievous injury. Before her death, she'd been in two major car accidents. Not long after the birth of her son, she and her brother were involved in a head-on collision in Nashville, the second of three serious accidents she was to endure in her lifetime. Cline was thrown into the windshield and badly injured. Her close friend, country singer Dottie West, was one of the first to arrive to the scene and rode with Cline in the ambulance, picking glass from her hair as she insisted the car's other driver be treated before her. Cline suffered a serious cut across her forehead (which she later covered with wigs and makeup), as well as a broken wrist, dislocated hip and injured ribs that affected her ability to hit the notes on initial recordings of what would become one of her biggest hits, "Crazy."
But Cline for the most part recovered from that accident, quickly returning to the studio and stage, and became one of the highest-paid and most respected female musicians of her time, enjoying multiple crossover successes on the country and pop charts and rubbing elbows with movers and shakers of her time including Elvis Presley, whom she referred to as "Big Hoss." Not quite three years after the accident that threatened to derail her career and almost took her life, Cline took the stage at the Kansas City benefit, though she was ill with the flu. She closed the 8PM show to thunderous applause, performing one of her newest songs, "I'll Sail My Ship Alone," before preparing to return home to Nashville, to her husband and two young children.
Dottie West, aware of Cline's premonitions and wary of her flying, asked Cline to travel back to Nashville with her by car, but Cline was anxious to return to her family and declined. "Don't worry about me, Hoss. When it's my time to go, it's my time."
Cline had reportedly confessed to a Jordanaire backup singer while exiting the Grand Ole Opry just a week earlier, "Honey, I've had two bad ones. The third one will either be a charm or it'll kill me." Indeed, the third one did come, and proved that it was indeed her time to go. Cline's plane, piloted by her manager Randy Hughes, crashed just outside Nashville the night of March 5, claiming the lives of Cline, Hughes, and co-performers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Hawkins had taken the seat originally intended for singer Billy Walker, who had to leave on an earlier flight but died in a car accident years later, in 2006 while driving back to Nashville after performing in Alabama. Hawkins' wife, famous country singer Jean Shepard, was at the time 8 months pregnant with their second son. Manager Randy Hughes left behind a wife, Kathy Hughes, who also lost her father in the crash - Copas.
Thousands attended Cline's memorial service on March 8, but one person didn't make it. Jack Anglin, best known as a member of the Anglin Brothers and later, Johnnie & Jack, died when he took a bend a little too quickly and crashed his car on the way to the service.
Nearly 30 years later and on the rebound after facing serious financial difficulties, Dottie West, the friend who rushed to Cline's side after her near-fatal car accident and who also shared the stage with the singer at her last performance in Kansas City, was scheduled to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Leaving her apartment in the Chrysler New Yorker Kenny Rogers had given her following the loss of her possessions at an IRS auction, West's car stalled. But her 81-year-old neighbor spotted her by the road and offered to drive her to the Opry. West urged the neighbor to speed, worried she wouldn't make it to the show on time, and while taking the Opryland exit at a speed of 55 miles per hour, the car left the ramp, became airbound, and hit the central division. Just as her friend Cline had in that earlier accident, West insisted her neighbor be treated first. West, assuming she was unharmed, proved to have suffered severe and ultimately fatal internal injuries, and died less than a week later.
What's the lesson to be learned in all this?
Follow your gut when it's tellin' you something. Oh, and wear your seatbelt, and don't speed.
Rest in peace, y'all.
Cowboy Copas - "Don't Shake Hands with the Devil"
Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas on Jubilee USA
Hawkshaw Hawkins - "Car Hoppin' Mama"
Billy Walker - "Charlie's Shoes"
Johnny & Jack - "I Get So Lonely"
Dottie West - "Country Sunshine"
Patsy Cline - "I Fall to Pieces" (taped just over a week before her death)
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