Hank Williams is universally regarded as one of the progenitors of country music, but in a bitter irony, the legendary singer-songwriter was actually fired from one of the genre’s greatest institutions just months before his death, after missing too many shows at the Grand Ole Opry.
Williams made one of the most legendary debuts in Opry history on June 11, 1949. Performing “Lovesick Blues,” as well as “Mind Your Own Busines,” Williams earned six encores from an audience that had never heard anything quite like his music before, and thereafter he became a regular performer on the show, which also broadcast live on the radio all over the country.
The country legend had already earned a reputation for hard drinking in the years prior to his Opry debut, and as time went on, that only increased. Williams also began to abuse painkillers, and as a consequence, he became less and less reliable as the years went on, missing shows at the Opry more than once. He missed yet another show on Aug. 9, 1952, and two days later, on Aug. 11, Williams was fired from the Grand Ole Opry.
The Opry has maintained over the years that Williams’ firing was meant as a warning to the increasingly erratic artist, but it turned out to be permanent. Williams never played the Opry stage again before his death on Jan. 1, 1953. Williams’ death was attributed to a heart attack, but over the years, many reports have speculated that a combination of alcohol and morphine contributed to his demise.