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Death of Hank Williams


Country music singer and songwriter Hank Williams was found dead in his car in Oak Hill on January 1, 1953. Over the years, legends and rumors have swirled around the circumstances of his death, ingraining him, and his demise, in the folklore of the state.

Williams was considered by many to be the foremost artist in the hard-edged honky-tonk style he helped to popularize in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He was born Hiram King Williams on September 17, 1923, in Mount Olive, Alabama, and later moved to Georgiana, Alabama. He rose to fame and fortune as the composer and singer of such songs as “Your Cheating Heart,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Cold, Cold Heart.” He was one of the main attractions on the Grand Ole Opry radio show from WSM-Nashville, Tennessee, a chart-topping recording artist for MGM Records, and a riveting live performer with his legendary Drifting Cowboys band.

Back trouble, prescription drug abuse, alcoholism, and a reputation for unreliability led to his firing from the Opry in 1952 and the breakup of his band. He was divorced twice from his first wife, Audrey. Before his death, Williams remarried and embarked on what was hoped to be a come-back tour. He was scheduled to appear at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston on December 31, 1952, to headline a show including Huntington native Hawkshaw Hawkins, Autry Inman, and others. Many of the same musicians were to appear with Williams the next night in Canton, Ohio.

An ice storm prevented Williams from flying, and he never made it to Charleston. The show was canceled, and Williams asked a family friend, Charles Carr, to drive him to Canton for the show there. On the way, Carr stopped at a gas station in Oak Hill where he discovered that Williams was dead. A coroner’s inquest was conducted in Oak Hill, and the cause of death was listed as “acute right ventricular dilation, acute cerebral edema, and acute alcoholism.” His body was driven back to Montgomery, Alabama, where his funeral attracted thousands of people.

A plaque in Oak Hill commemorating Williams’s death says, “On January 1, 1953, in Oak Hill, West Virginia, Hank Williams Sr. made his last stop on his last tour. This memorial is dedicated by his fans who wish to keep his memory and music alive forever.”

Written by John Lilly