George Jones was one of country music’s most legendary hell-raisers, but he finally straightened out toward the end of his life after a car accident that hospitalized him and could have taken his life. Jones had a huge early career, but by the late ’70s he was almost as well known for his partying as he was for his music. The country icon earned the nickname “No Show Jones” for his habit of simply not showing up for concerts he had scheduled, and by the time he met his fourth wife, Nancy, in 1981, his career was significantly diminished and he was practically financially ruined.
She set about trying to rescue both his career and his personal life, and in fact, Jones was able to turn his career and reputation around. By the ’90s he was well-regarded as country music’s elder statesman, but behind the scenes, he was still struggling with alcohol.
That struggle came to a head on March 6, 1999, when Jones was involved in a single-car accident near his home in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn. He hit a bridge in his SUV and suffered a lacerated liver, punctured lung and internal bleeding. Jones spent 13 days in the hospital, and though it was originally reported that he had been on the phone at the time and alcohol did not play a role, investigators found a pint bottle of vodka under his passenger seat that had previously been opened. Jones later pleaded guilty to charges of driving while impaired and violating Tennessee’s open container law, and in a press conference afterward, he took full responsibility for his actions.
Jones would later recall that incident as the turning point in his sobriety, and said he had even given up smoking after the terrifying ordeal. In an interview with Nashville’s Tennessean after his death, Nancy Jones said it was miraculous to her after 18 years of trying to get him sober. She said Jones made a deal with God after the accident.
“He said, ‘God if you let me get over this, I’ll never touch a cigarette or liquor again,'” she recalled. “I was warm all over. This time he meant it.” She says Jones was sober for the rest of his life, until his death in 2013.
The first time you meet George and spend a few minutes with him,
you come away with conflicting impressions.
He’s brilliant. He’s almost got sincerity down pat.
He talks big money, but has scotch tape holding his glasses together,
and has to push his car to start it.
He knows a lot about everything.
He has some good sounding ideas.
He can create excitement and mistrust at the same time.
and the oddest part is this: You kinda like him.
His idea the day we met him was a chain of restaurants
called “Misty and Jack’s Family Picnic”.
The decor would have white trellises,
with artificial climbing vines, picket fences, flowers, etc..
We had the name value at that time,
and had been looking around for a way to exploit it.
Of course George had that all figured out ahead of time.
He knew what buttons to push.
He told us the seats should just be comfortable enough,
but not so comfortable that people would sit around all day
taking up tables.
He had invented a way to make pizza in a microwave
and have it come out just like oven baked.
Naturally I came up with my usual type of suggestions,
like a chicken place called “Chicken In A Casket”.
We could serve them on their backs
in black cardboard caskets with a red lining.
We could have plastic toothpicks
made in the shape of little white crosses,
and stick them in the top of the chicken for decoration.
Unlike most mental cases, George had a sense of humor.
He got the jokes.
He had us set up a dinner party at our house
to meet a potential investor who just by accident was a psychiatrist.
A high profile local shrink.
The psychiatrist was nuts, too.
All through dinner he psychoanalyzed me in front of everybody.
He told me everything he thought I did wrong in my life, and why.
He ruined the party, showing off his shrink ability at my expense.
I kept my cool for the sake of everybody else,
but as the guests were filing out the door,
I said to him, “I bet you don’t get invited back to many parties”.
He was shocked, and asked me why I would say something like that.
I told him how he had behaved and he said a real shrink thing to me.
He said: “You handle your hostilities well”.
I felt like pulling his lower lip up over his head.
George was one of those loud talkers.
He’d be sitting with us at a restaurant table,
conversing at a level that could reach everybody in the room.
He was an actor playing to the back row.
He used a lot of phrases like: “My people…” “My people are loyal…”
“We’ve leased the entire top floor for our offices, etc..”
His office was a twenty year old Chevy.
There was a recently divorced waitress working in our club,
who talked a lot about marrying a rich guy.
She was going to find one, you just watch.
Goldie was money hungry, a little more than most of us.
She could hear George talking about his people
and his big deals all the time.
A month later they were married
and moved into the most expensive penthouse in town.
The marriage lasted about a month,
until Goldie and the landlord realized
that the rent check was going to bounce.
George could discuss any subject like an expert.
I’m sure his IQ was off the chart, but his IQ wasn’t running the show.
I wanted brochures.
He knew the name of every fancy type font.
He sent what he called a rough contract to me in Nashville.
I took it to a friend, who was a law professor at Vanderbilt,
who said the contract was excellent legal work.
We didn’t see George for a few years
and then one night he was on the Channel 9 News.
They interviewed him as a scientist who had invented a coffee substitute.
I said to Misty, “Isn’t that Postum?”.
Another year or two, and there he was,
being interviewed on Channel 9 again.
He was wearing a white lab coat, and was introduced as a local scientist
who had discovered a particle smaller than an atom.
They asked him how he had done it when nobody else could,
and he said something so stupid
I thought a hook would come out and pull him off.
He said: “Nobody else was looking for anything that small.”
The reporter said, “That’s amazing!”
I ran into that psychiatrist a while later
and asked if he knew what George was up to lately,
and he said: “He’s a pathological liar”.
Yeah, but we liked the liar better than the doctor.