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Hank Williams Jr. Talks About the Accident That Almost Killed Him

Hank Williams Jr spent most of the early days of his career living in the giant shadow of his legendary father; Hank Williams Sr, best known for penning country classics like ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and ‘Honky Tonk Blues’. Williams Jr. felt a tremendous amount of pressure to imitate his father’s signature sound. But he wanted to pave out his own path and not have to be constantly compared to his dad. But at first, hardly anyone would take him seriously, and because of that, he found himself increasingly frustrated both as an artist and also on a personal level.

It took quite a bit of struggle, a failed suicide attempt, and even an almost fatal accident to set him on the path that would eventually allow him to express his own boldly unique musical vision.

By fusing traditional country elements with southern rock and just a dash of blues, Williams Jr. successfully crafted his own original sound that eventually resulted in him receiving the recognition that he deserved. Throughout his career, he had 10 number-one singles, 30 gold records, and 6 platinum ones. He also managed to be honored with 4 Emmys and 5 Entertainer of the Year awards.

But even though he finally found his voice, he almost lost it – and a lot more than that – in 1975; when he slipped and fell while hiking and tumbled 500 feet to the ground, sustaining serious head injuries in the process.

Join Facts Verse as we take a look back on this horrific incident and how it nearly put an end to Hank Williams Jr.’s career. We’ll also touch on a bit more of his life story and all of the trials. And tribulations he had to endure to finally prove to the world that he was a heck of a lot more than just a country star’s son.

Hank Williams Jr’s Early Life And Rise To Fame

Born Randall Hank Williams on May 26, 1949, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to father Hank Williams and mother Audrey, Hank Jr, immersed in the musical world from the day he was born. His dad was a 25-year-old country music star who was experiencing tremendous success with his hit song ‘Lovesick Blues’.

Hank Sr would regularly perform on the popular Shreveport-based radio program, Louisiana Hayride, around this time. And he started calling his new bouncing baby boy Bocephus after a ventriloquist dummy that comedian Rod Brasfield used while performing at the Grand Ole Opry.

Hank Sr would sadly die in the backseat of his Cadillac while en route to a show in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1953. His death likely caused by a combo of painkillers and booze. He was only 29 years when he left his son, who wasn’t even 4, behind.

Hank Jr’s mom, Audrey, then took it upon herself to turn her darling son into a little miniature version of his father. He started playing all of his dad’s old songs at shows when he was only eight years old. He signed to his first record deal when he was 14 and earned a number-five hit in 1964 with a cover of his father’s signature tune; ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues’. That same year, he also recorded the soundtrack for the biographical film about his dad titled ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’.

In 1966, Hank Jr began to show the world that he too was a gifted songwriter with his track Standing in the Shadows (of a Very Famous Man) which reached the number five position on the country charts that year. A few years later, in 1970, he landed his first number one hit song with ‘All for the Love of Sunshine’; which he recorded for the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood flick Kelly’s Heroes.

He showed off his strong singing voice in the 1972 track ‘Eleven Roses’; which also went to number one, and in 1973s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’.

But things took a dark turn shortly after that when he started struggling with drugs and alcohol just as his father had. Things got so bleak that he even attempted to commit suicide before realizing that he had to take control of his life and career; In order to move them both forward into greener pastures.

He then packed his bags, left Nashville behind, and moved to the deep south; where he would call the state of Alabama his new home.

In 1975, he released his album Hank Williams Jr and Friends, which was really his first honest attempt to express himself musically in a creative sense. This was the point when he started to experiment with his sound combining his country roots with southern rock and blues. Taking inspiration from groups such as Lynyrd Skynrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, and The Allman Brothers Band.

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The Accident That Almost Cost Him Everything

On August 8, 1975, Williams Jr, who was 26 at the time, and a buddy of his went for a hike along rugged terrain not far from Ajax Lake, Montana, in search of goats. Hank unfortunately slipped and fell approximately 500 feet; smashing his head on jagged rocks as he plunged and sustaining serious injuries in the process.

In 1976, Hank opened up about his fall in an interview where he spoke frankly about the moments right after he lost his footing. He explained that the snow he had been walking on had shifted under his feet; which caused him to tumble down the mountain. On the way down, he says that he felt his head hit a boulder and heard the thud that his head made. Shockingly he explained that he didn’t feel any pain at all as he was completely in shock.

The first thing that he did after reaching the ground below was look at his hands. As a musician, he wanted to make sure that his most valuable asset hadn’t damaged. That’s about the time that he noticed blood gushing from his head. After grabbing his face, he realized the full extent of his injuries.

He then tried to get up, but he couldn’t, so he had to wait for his hiking partner to make his way down to him. After wrapping his face in a Williams T-shirt; his partner left his 11-year-old son with him so he could go get help.

A helicopter was then called in, but it was forced to land about a quarter-mile away from where the accident took place. It took the rescue crew of six men six hours to carry Williams to the helicopter; before they could fly him to the nearest medical center, Missoula Community Hospital.

Boceuphus then underwent over seven hours of surgery led by a team of five doctors. After he woke up, he had two very special visitors. One was his godmother, June Carter Cash, and the other was her famous husband, Johnny.

In 2015, Hank told Rolling Stone that shortly after he opened his eyes to see Johnny and June sitting there,; June put a cross on him and told him that everything was going to be okay. At that time, Hank admitted that he had no clue whether or not he would ever sing again; let alone talk. He also had no clue what he was going to look like once the bandages came off.

Hanks next visitor was his mother, Audrey, who happened to be a very close friend of June Carter Cash. She had to fly in from Nashville just to be by her boy’s side.

Audrey told the Nashville-based newspaper The Tennessean that month that it was a miracle that Hank was alive. But she added that he was young and tough and that it was God’s will for him to live.

Sadly, just three months after Hank Jr’s accident; his mother passed away of congestive heart failure at the age of 52. She had been facing financial difficulties; and her home had been seized by the IRS after she failed to pay her taxes. But the thing that weighed heaviest on her heart before her death was her son’s accident which nearly took his life. While heart troubles are ultimately what did her in. It’s speculated that the depression that she felt after Hank Jr got hurt may have been what really killed her.

While Hank Jr was indeed tough, just as his mom said he was, so was his recovery. It took him nearly two years to make a full recovery. And throughout that time, he had to have several more surgeries.

Today, Williams wears a full beard and sunglasses to hide his scars.

In 1989, he told reporters that he still had dreams about the accident. And expressed his belief that he should have died. He went on to talk about how his doctor told him how he had worked on numerous soldiers in Vietnam. And that they looked a lot better than he did in comparison.

William’s accident was detailed in the 1983 film Living Proof: The Hank Williams Jr Story; as well as in his song All In Alabama.

In 2006, Hank Jr sat down and talked with CMT. When he was asked if he thought that his music had changed over the years. He expressed his opinion that it’s about the same. But he did, however, say that his voice sounded completely different. He went on to attribute that change to his 520 footfall down that Montana mountainside.

After recovering from his injuries, Hank Jr continued to challenge the country music establishment with his unique sound. He went on to record dozens of albums and singles, with his most recent being 2016s It’s About Time.

On August 12, 2020, he was selected to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Hank’s son, Shelton, went on to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and performs his own unique brand of music; which combines elements of country and rockabilly music with punk rock. Hank’s grandson, Coleman Williams, likewise performs under the name moniker IV.

Did you know about Hank Williams Jr’s accident in 1975 that almost cost him his life? Do you think his career would have panned out differently if he hadn’t gone through that life-changing event? Let us know in the comments.

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