Country singers who've suffered tragic real-life losses

There's an old joke that says if you play a country singer's song backwards, the hero's wife comes back, his dog comes back, he gets his house back, and his good ol' pickup truck starts working again. It's such a cliché that Rascal Flatts even recorded a song making fun of it. Mock country music all you want, but part of the reason why millions of people love that distinctly American born-and-bred musical style is because, at its best, it's relatable and emotionally resonant. Some of the most memorable country songs are about regular people going through real problems — usually heartbreak, infidelity, and the loss of a loved one. (Three respective examples: Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," and George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today.")

Country music performers sing those songs of human pain and misery so well because, unfortunately, a lot of them have lived through their own tragedies — ones that are too dark and sad to even be the subject of a country song. Here are some of the struggles endured by notable country singers who somehow found the strength to recover and keep the music going.

Shania Twain's horrific childhood

Shania Twain was the biggest country star of the late '90s. She even crossed over to the pop world and had some smash hits there, too — particularly, "You're Still the One." But unlike most pop stars who are barely old enough to vote when they score their first hit, Twain was a little bit older than your Britneys, Christinas, Katys, and Arianas. Her breakthrough album, The Woman in Me, and its seven number-one singles, hit stores when Twain was right around 30. What took her so long? Well, life got in the way.

As a kid in the small Canadian town of Timmins, Ontario, Twain told Nightline that, because her parents had a lot of financial troubles, as well as five children to support, there often wasn't enough money to buy food. She'd go to school hungry, but she said she "didn't have the courage" to ever ask for outside help. The Twain household was a stressful one, to say the least. Twain's father figure (her stepfather, who legally adopted her when she was four) embodied a "Jekyll and Hyde" dynamic, having once nearly killed Twain's mother by trying to drown her in a toilet. Still, Twain loved him, once saying, "I loved him and I respect so much what he did for us."

It gets worse, though. In 1987, Twain's mother and stepfather died in a car accident. That left the responsibility of raising the three children still at home to Shania Twain.

There have been a few fatalities at Jason Aldean concerts

On Oct. 1, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting to ever take place on American soil happened at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas strip. Hundreds of Jason Aldean fans had gathered to rock out to some tunes and just have a good time when Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room window. More than 500 people were injured, and 58 people lost their lives. The "Dirt Road Anthem" singer was, of course, devastated, writing on his Instagram page that he could not "understand why a person would want to take the life of another" and that his heart "aches for the victims and their families of this senseless act."

That was a tragedy of the highest order, but, shockingly, it wasn't not the only time that someone died at a Jason Aldean concert. Two months later, a fan disappeared from Cleveland's Progressive Field during an Aldean show. His body eventually turned up in a landfill, leading police to believe he fell down a trash chute.

Reba McEntire's band died in a plane crash

Reba McEntire is one of the biggest country music stars of all time, thanks to hits (and karaoke staples) like "Little Rock," "I Know How He Feels," and "Fancy." Her total dominance of Nashville in the '80s and early '90s was also due in part to her support staff — a talented and versatile backing band and an extremely competent tour manager who brought McEntire and her music to the masses in all the right ways. And then, on one fateful day in March 1991, McEntire lost all of them.

McEntire and her band had played a private gig for IBM executives in San Diego on March 15, 1991. The next gig was scheduled for the following night in Fort Wayne, Ind., so the whole group had to take a flight on two small business jets. McEntire and her husband/manager held back for the second flight, while seven band members and the tour manager took the first plane. A few minutes after takeoff, it crashed into nearby Otay Mountain. All ten passengers and the two-person flight crew were killed. McEntire has spoken of the harrowing event on occasion, telling Oprah Winfrey through tears in 2012 that although "it's been 20 years ... I don't guess it ever quits hurting."

Luke Bryan raised his late sister's kids

Today Luke Bryan looks like the picture of an all-American boy — as if created in a country music singer factory. He's an affable, good-looking, Georgia-born guy who sings songs about having a good time (he has two albums named after spring break, for what it's worth). Except for the part about selling millions of albums and being a judge on American Idol, Bryan's life seems like a country love song: The dude worked his way up from songwriter to performer, and he married his college sweetheart, Caroline Boyer

Unfortunately, Bryan's life also resembles those other kinds of country songs — the ones about tragedy. Bryan lost his brother, Chris, in a fatal car accident in the mid-1990s. Then his sister, Kelly, passed away. And the fates weren't done. Ben Lee Cheshire, Kelly's husband, died suddenly in 2014, leaving three young children behind. Bryan and Boyer immediately adopted those kids and have raised them ever since. "We never thought twice about it," Bryan's wife told ABC News. "You know, it was never something that he and I had to sit down and talk about, you know, should we take this on. We just did it."

Craig Morgan's son drowned

Craig Morgan took something of a roundabout way to country fame — he worked as an EMT and as a sheriff's deputy and did nine years of active duty in the U.S. Army as a member of the 82nd Airborne and as a paratrooper during Operation Desert Storm. It wasn't until Morgan was 36 that he released his first album in 2000.

Morgan was also a family man, dad to a son, Jerry Greer, whom he described to People as a "funny," "stud athlete," "dang rockstar," and "beautiful soul." Shortly after graduating from Dickson County High School in Tennessee in 2016, Greer went out for a fun Sunday of tubing on Kentucky Lake. At one point, Greer left the tube and headed into the water ... and never came back up. It puzzled authorities, as the young man had been wearing a life jacket.

Greer still had the life jacket on when his body was recovered from the lake more than a day later. The young man was just 19 years old and had been slated to play football at Marshall University that fall.

George Strait's daughter died in a car accident

George Strait is nicknamed the "King of Country" for good reason. The cowboy hat-wearing megastar is a little bit of a country traditionalist, but his songs are slick enough to have helped bridge the gap between pop and country. The result: Strait has scored a whopping 60 No. 1 hits across various country music charts, the most chart-toppers of any musician in any genre. (And that's not even counting "Amarillo by Morning," which didn't hit number one, even though it is objectively fantastic.)

All that good fortune does not, of course, make a person's life invincible and untouchable. Late one night in June 1986, Strait's 13-year-old daughter, Jenifer, was riding in a car in San Marcos, Texas, with three older friends, including William Allen McDonald, 16, and Joseph Wiley Robbins, 17 (via Orlando Sentinel). The driver, 18-year-old Gregory Wilson Allen, reportedly made a snap turn to a side road but missed. The car skidded and completely flipped over, landing upside-down in a ditch. No one in the car had buckled their seatbelt, and, while Robbins and McDonald sustained minor injuries and Allen was unhurt, Strait was partially ejected from the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene. 

In the aftermath, Allen was charged with misdemeanor criminally negligent homicide, while George Strait helped set up the Jenifer Strait Memorial Foundation. Ever since, the charity has supported various organizations in the San Antonio area, where the Straits live.

Margo Price lost a child

Margo Price became a huge presence in country music in just a short time, releasing two critically acclaimed albums (Midwest Farmer's Daughter and All American Made) of stark, deeply personal, haunting songs since 2016. While it seems like she's an overnight sensation, she's been toiling and struggling for years to make a name for herself. She moved to Nashville in 2003 and was rejected by as many as 30 record labels. At one point, she sold her car and pawned her engagement ring to pay for studio time to record her own stuff.

That all pales to the agony Price suffered in her off-stage life. The line in her song "Hands of Time," in which Price says, "My firstborn died and I cried out to God," is all too true. "I had twins," Price told NPR. "My first born, he had a heart condition — hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, which essentially means that he was born with half a heart." 

Doctors made Price aware of the condition about halfway through her pregnancy and that the baby would need to have heart surgery almost immediately after birth. Sadly, the corrective surgery "just did not work," Price said, and the child died after just a couple of weeks of life. Price admitted that it "was dark days for a while," and, afterwards, she self-medicated with alcohol. But she pulled through thanks to a "very supportive" husband, Jeremy Ivey, who is also the guitarist in her band.

Gary Allan's wife ended her own life

Gary Allan has been a reliable presence in the world of country music for more than 20 years, but he's best known for sentimental and wry-humor-injected tracks like "Tough Little Boys" and "Nothing On but the Radio." 

In 2004, Allan experienced a family-shattering moment that seemed to come completely out of nowhere (via People). After proposing to flight attendant Angela Herzberg in 2000 and marrying, he blended his family with his wife's — they each had three kids — and settled into a house in Tennessee. Herzberg began to suffer from severe allergies, which led to migraines. On the night of Oct. 25, 2004, Herzberg had one so bad that she was vomiting, and she asked Allan to take the kids to a scheduled Halloween party. He did, returned, tucked the kids in, and turned on the TV. "It was about 12 o'clock at night, and she came over and sort of hassled me about what I was watching," Allan told People. "Then after she walked away I thought, 'Wow, that was way out of character.'" 

Allan then checked on his wife, who asked him to get her a Coke to help with the nausea. Allan went to the kitchen and then "heard a loud pop." The pop was a gunshot. Herzberg, who had suffered from untreated depression, had taken her own life.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Sugarland's stage collapsed

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush perform as a duo under the name Sugarland. They've enjoyed a string of successful songs on the country charts since the mid-2000s, including "Want To," "Settlin,'" "All I Want to Do," and "Already Gone." An innocent need to hear those songs is what drew a huge crowd to a Sugarland show at the Indiana State Fair on Aug. 13, 2011.

The band hadn't even started playing yet when disaster struck. A storm came through, and, with it, a freakishly large gust of wind. It blew through the outdoor performance space and tore the roof off, knocking down a canopy, some scaffolding, and various other equipment. It all fell into the crowd, where it crushed — and killed — four fans. Reported dead on the scene were Tammy Vandam, Glenn Goodrich, Alina Bigjohny, and Christiana Santiago. Nathan Byrd was working the stage crew and was also hit with debris. He died the next day in a hospital. A sixth fan, Jennifer Haskell, died a few days later from head injuries sustained in the accident. Meagan Toothman became the seventh fatality a week after the concert, succumbing to her injuries. 

Sugarland responded on Twitter with a simple message: "We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you'll join us. They need your strength" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Ricky Skaggs' son survived a gunshot

Ricky Skaggs is about as old-school country as you're going to find, able to play the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle. When country acquired some top 40 sheen in the '80s, Skaggs held it down in the name of tradition and amassed a bunch of No. 1 country hits, including "Country Boy" and "Don't Cheat in Our Hometown." Skaggs made country history, but his family also bore witness to a disturbing act of what appeared to be road rage. 

In August 1986, a truck driver fired a shot into a car driven by Ricky Skaggs' wife, Brenda (via UPI). The bullet hit their passenger, 7-year-old Andrew Skaggs, in the head. A few hours after the incident, police arrested Edward Dean Duehring, Jr. 

What happened? Police initially thought that the truck driver was angry about getting cut off. "Two lanes narrowed down to one lane," police spokesman Charles Vaughn told UPI, "and when it opened back up to two lanes, the car went to pass the truck and that's when the incident occurred." However, Duehring remembered the events differently. He later testified that he had been trying to make a tight deadline and had slept just a few hours over the past week. He said he was so sleep-deprived that he heard voices and that he'd fired his gun to ward off those imaginary threats. The truck driver received a 40-year prison sentence. Andrew Skaggs, thankfully, survived and recovered.

Mindy McCready needed an angel

In 1996 — at age 20 — Mindy McCready released her two-million record-selling debut Ten Thousand Angels, which included hits like the title track and "Guys Do It All the Time." But follow-up releases sold poorly, and, by the mid-2000s, she was making the news for bad stuff instead of musical stuff. In November 2004, the country singer pleaded guilty to using a fake painkiller prescription, and, a few months later, she was busted for drunk driving. A few weeks after that, the singer was hospitalized after her boyfriend, Billy McKnight, broke into her house and tried to strangle her. She'd later have a son with McKnight, after being charged for teaming up with a con man to score a boat ... and two pill-based suicide attempts.

After more arrests (for fighting with her mother), revealing a years-long affair with baseball star Roger Clemens, and a third suicide attempt, McCready appeared on VH1's Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Afterwards, McCready's life returned to being messy. She disappeared with her son for a spell (violating a custody agreement), and she had another child with a man who turned up dead not long after. McCready returned to rehab in early February 2013, but it wasn't enough to free McCready of her demons. The 37-year-old singer took her own life via a self-inflicted gunshot on Feb. 17, 2013.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).