WV History: Hank Williams’ Last Ride (1953)

On January 1, 1953, the driver of Hank Williams Sr’s car pulled over in Oak Hill, WV and discovered that he had passed away in the backseat.

Such a beautiful voice, gone.

This blog includes some web entries on his death, photos, videos and newspaper clippings from the days after his death.

Entrance marker of the Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama

UPDATE: I am including the link to the Tyree Funeral Home’s page where they tell a slightly different accounting than that of the Wikipedia entry below.


Wikipedia Entry Regarding His Death:

Williams was scheduled to perform at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston, West Virginia, on Wednesday December 31, 1952. Advance ticket sales totaled $3,500. That day, because of an ice storm in the Nashville area, Williams could not fly, so he hired a college student, Charles Carr, to drive him to the concerts. Carr called the Charleston auditorium from Knoxville to say that Williams would not arrive on time owing to the ice storm and was ordered to drive Williams to Canton, Ohio, for the New Year’s Day concert there.

They arrived at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Carr requested a doctor for Williams, as he was feeling the combination of the chloral hydrate and alcohol he had drunk on the way from Montgomery to Knoxville. Dr. P. H. Cardwell injected Williams with two shots of vitamin B12 that also contained a quarter-grain of morphine. Carr and Williams checked out of the hotel; the porters had to carry Williams to the car, as he was coughing and hiccuping.

At around midnight on Thursday, January 1, 1953, when they crossed the Tennessee state line and arrived in Bristol, Virginia, Carr stopped at a small all-night restaurant and asked Williams if he wanted to eat. Williams said he did not, and those are believed to be his last words. Carr later drove on until he stopped for fuel at a gas station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where he realized that Williams was dead, and rigor mortis had already set in. The filling station’s owner called the chief of the local police. In Williams’ Cadillac, the police found some empty beer cans and unfinished handwritten lyrics.

Dr. Ivan Malinin performed the autopsy at the Tyree Funeral House. Malinin found hemorrhages in the heart and neck and pronounced the cause of death as “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart”. That evening, when the announcer at Canton announced Williams’ death to the gathered crowd, they started laughing, thinking that it was just another excuse. After Hawkshaw Hawkins and other performers started singing “I Saw the Light” as a tribute to Williams, the crowd, now realizing that he was indeed dead, sang along. Malinin also wrote that Williams had been severely beaten and kicked in the groin recently. Also, local magistrate Virgil F. Lyons ordered an inquest into Williams’ death concerning the welt that was visible on his head.

His body was transported to Montgomery, Alabama on Friday, January 2, and placed in a silver casket that was first shown at his mother’s boarding house for two days. His funeral took place on Sunday, January 4, at the Montgomery Auditorium, with his casket placed on the flower-covered stage. An estimated 15,000 to 25,000 people passed by the silver casket, and the auditorium was filled with 2,750 mourners. His funeral was said to have been far larger than any ever held for any other citizen of Alabama and the largest event ever held in Montgomery.  Williams’ remains are interred at the Oakwood Annex in Montgomery. The president of MGM told Billboard magazine that the company got only about five requests for pictures of Williams during the weeks before his death, but over three hundred afterwards. The local record shops reportedly sold all their Williams records, and customers were asking for all records ever released by Williams.

His final single, released in November 1952 while he was still alive, was titled “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was written and recorded in September 1952 but released in late January 1953 after Williams’ death. The song, backed by “Kaw-Liga”, was number one on the country charts for six weeks. It provided the title for the 1964 biographical film of the same name, which starred George Hamilton. “Take These Chains From My Heart” was released in April 1953 and went to number 1 on the country charts. “I Won’t Be Home No More”, released in July, went to number 3, and an overdubbed demo, “Weary Blues From Waitin'”, written with Ray Price, went to number 7.

I took these images a few years ago of the Skyline Drive-In where Hank’s driver pulled over to discover he had passed away. Located just outside of Oak Hill.

CLIPPED FROM: The Raleigh Register / Beckley, West Virginia
01 Jan 1953, Thu  •  Page 1
CLIPPED FROM: Nashville Banner / Nashville, Tennessee
03 Jan 1953, Sat  •  Page 2

CLIPPED FROM: The Montgomery Advertiser / Montgomery, Alabama
05 Jan 1953, Mon  •  Page 3
CLIPPED FROM: The Birmingham News / Birmingham, Alabama
05 Jan 1953, Mon  •  Page 19
CLIPPED FROM: The Raleigh Register / Beckley, West Virginia
11 Jan 1953, Sun  •  Page 1

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