Tragic Details About Kellie Pickler

The following article contains references to addiction and suicide.

For many listeners, country music is about storytelling. From life's lessons to life's greatest joys, you can find it in a country song. Sure, we've all heard a song about beer cans, pickup trucks, and good ole Southern sweet tea. Maybe some of us have even gotten the urge to pick up a banjo and two-step our way around a country-and-western bar when the right track starts blaring from a jukebox. But life's simple pleasures just scratch the surface when it comes to what the music genre is known for. 

Country singers dive deep into some of life's most serious topics. Loss, alcoholism, heartbreak, and broken homes are obstacles that have set the tone for legendary country music tracks. Grammy award-winning artist Tim McGraw's track "Red Rag Top" was even pulled from airplay by some radio stations upon its release in 2002 due to it being a song about a young couple who decided to have an abortion.

Much of the inspiration for famous country music songs comes from the artists who have lived through tragedies themselves. Former "American Idol" star Kellie Pickler may have stolen hearts with her small-town Southern charm and bright-eyed smile, but the singer's road to stardom was anything but easy. Pickler has experienced her fair share of difficulties in her life, and she sought therapy through music. While she's come a long way from her North Carolina roots, the "Red High Heels" singer hasn't forgotten the ups and downs — including the tragic events — that shaped her into the talented artist she is today.

She had a painful childhood

With a father in and out of jail, and a mother in and out of her life, Kellie Pickler had to fend for herself a lot growing up. She turned her difficult memories into artistic fuel, however, and released the track "Mother's Day" in 2012, a song that shines a light on her difficult upbringing. "I didn't realize how bad the situation was until I went back as an adult," Pickler told The Boot. "In shooting the ['Mother's Day'] video in particular, going back to those childhood moments, seeing my father struggle with his alcoholism and drug addiction ..." 

The singer went on to admit that the song took her back to her past, a small town in North Carolina where she was forced to grow up quickly. "I didn't have time to study. I was too busy being a parent," she admitted. "When I left school, I was clocking into another job. I had other siblings that I was taking care of. I had to learn how to almost be a homemaker in a way." 

Pickler may not have a lot of fond memories of her hometown, but she believes her tough childhood gave her strength. And while she's gone back to visit North Carolina, she admits that seeing the people she was raised with living the same lives troubles her. "It's so sad. I grew up hearing everyone around me complain about everything. Hated their job, hated this, hated that. So miserable ... Minimum wage and living paycheck to paycheck and still not having the lights on."

Kellie Pickler dealt with depression

Kellie Pickler's life may seem like a dream to her many fans — but her personal reality hasn't always been glamorous. The "Best Days of Your Life" singer opened up to People in 2008, admitting that she went through a year-long depression after dealing with family issues and heartbreak. "I was an emotional wreck," Pickler said. "Everything in my professional life seemed great, but in my personal life, I was just crumbling." At the time, she had broken up with hockey player Jordin Tootoo and she was dealing with her father's stints in prison. Plus, her mother (largely absent from her life since she was a toddler) had unexpectedly returned to her life. 

Pickler admitted she attempted to take anti-depressants but had trouble with the side effects. The country singer found solace in writing her second record, the self-titled album "Kellie Pickler," which she released in 2008. She leaned on fellow singers Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift to get her through the difficult time. She also found love with country music songwriter Kyle Jacobs at the time, whom she admitted "makes me feel so good about being me." The two went on to tie the knot in an intimate beachside ceremony in Antigua in 2011. 

The singer's father was in and out of prison

Kellie Pickler didn't exactly have a model father figure growing up. The "My Angel" singer's father, Clyde Pickler Jr., was in and out of prison for the majority of her life. He was in the midst of a three-year sentence in a Florida prison while his daughter was a contestant on Season 5 of "American Idol." Clyde was convicted for stabbing his neighbor in a trailer park in 2003. Upon his release in 2006, he was met with his daughter's newfound fame after she placed 6th and was eliminated from the show. At the time, he told reporters: "Being in the position I've been in, I can't take any credit for what Kellie's done," adding, "She's accomplished a lot in her 19 years of life, and I'm extremely proud of her –- I'm going to try and patch up a few burned bridges."

Kellie admitted that being honest about her father's situation helped her heal while competing on the popular talent show. "It was embarrassing and I didn't want to hurt my dad, but I knew if I didn't come out in the beginning ... that people would find out about it anyway. The most important thing you can do is be honest. And I'm not ashamed about my life anymore," she told People. Clyde eventually went back to prison in 2007 over larceny charges. "It's hard for someone to come out of prison with no job, no money, nobody, and I tried to help him ... but it backfired," Kellie told People.

Kellie Picker's father was an alcoholic

Kelly Pickler took her hardships to pen and paper, turning her sorrows into song. The country music singer got candid about her tumultuous relationship with her father in her emotional track "The Letter (to Daddy)" which she released in 2012. In the track, she sings, "The bottle took you from me/When I was a child/Robbed me of the love I needed/Robbed me of a smile." The song is a part of her album "100 Proof" which tells the story of her difficult upbringing. 

"This letter is something I've always wanted to be able to say. He's struggled his whole life with alcoholism and drug addiction, and that's something you never stop struggling with. When you're an alcoholic, you're always an alcoholic — even if you're sober," she told The Boot in 2012. "My dad is sober today, but is he going to be tomorrow? I don't know."

Despite Pickler's up-and-down relationship with her father, the singer admitted she was proud to see him sober up and go back to school. "People have a perception and opinion of him and his past, but my dad inspired me in so many ways. I've always been a daddy's girl. He was never not a part of my life," she told Rolling Stone in 2014. "He loved me and took care of me the best as he could." Pickler admitted that the heartfelt track dedicated to her father was her favorite on the record. 

She says her mother was abusive

Kellie Pickler not only wrote a song about her troubled relationship with her father but her mother as well. The artist's track "I Wonder" shines a light on the absence of her mother, who abandoned her when she was little. In the song, Pickler sings: "Sometimes I think about you/Wonder if you're out there somewhere thinkin' 'bout me/And would you even recognize/The woman that your little girl has grown up to be?" 

After her mother was unable to provide for her, Pickler was raised by her grandparents. Her childhood memories are tainted, to say the least, and she told Us Weekly that her mother had physically abused her growing up. "I remember my mother and I were in the kitchen and I said, 'I wish God would take me away, I'd much rather be dead than live here with you,'" Pickler revealed (via New York Post). "She took a knife out, set it on the counter and said, 'Here, do it then.' I was in fourth grade. Of course I would never have acted upon it, but it's done a lot of emotional scarring."

Pickler's mother Cynthia Malone spoke out about her estranged relationship with her daughter in 2007 while Pickler performed at that year's Country Music Association Awards. "Leaving my baby [was the worst thing I felt] ... Leaving my baby. That was the hardest decision I had to make," Malone admitted at the time. She told reporters she fled a toxic relationship with her then-husband Clyde, who she says physically abused her throughout her pregnancy.

Kellie Picker lost her grandmother to cancer

Kellie Pickler considered her grandma to be the mother she never had. After her mother abandoned her at a young age and her father was in and out of prison, the country singer moved in with her grandparents, Clyde and Faye Pickler, who raised her. But Pickler's time with her grandmother was cut short in 2002 when Faye died of lung cancer. The singer told ABC News: "My grandmother, Faye Pickler, she's the one that raised me and the woman I called mom, She was diagnosed with lung cancer back in January 2002 and she died the very next day, she died the very next morning."

Pickler went on to add that her grandmother had been a smoker and was born into a generation unaware of its long-term effects. Faye was just 66 years old at the time of her death. "One of the hardest things I've had to experience was losing my grandmother to lung cancer," the "Red High Heels" singer said in a press release (via Daily Mail). The artist honored Faye by tattooing her name on her foot and dedicating the song "My Angel" to her beloved mother figure. In the track, Pickler sings: "You were everything I wanna be/And all the good inside of me/There's never been/Never been another/Who loved me like you did/My grandmother, my angel."

Her father died at 54

Kellie Pickler is no stranger to tragedy. The singer lost her father, Clyde, unexpectedly in 2019 at the age of 54. Though details about his death have not been released, reports suggest that he had a heart attack. The country singer had a strained relationship with her father over the years, but she always spoke highly of him throughout her career despite him being constantly in trouble with the law. The singer even took him as a guest at the Country Music Awards one year, whereas her relationship with her mother was largely nonexistent throughout her life.

"He spent a lot of time teaching me how to fend for myself," Kellie said on "The View" (per Daily Mail). "I know how to survive and make something from nothing and he taught me how to do that." In addition to her song "The Letter (to Daddy)," Pickler opened up about the lessons she learned from Clyde on another song, "Tough." In the song, she seemingly references her hard knocks upbringing with the lyrics: "Found out real fast, life is a game/You're out real quick if you don't know how to play, tough/I ain't never been nothing but tough/all my edges have always been rough."

Kellie Pickler's husband died by suicide

Kellie Pickler experienced a terrible tragedy in February 2023 when her husband, Kyle Jacobs, died. According to the police report obtained by People, the singer told authorities she woke up and couldn't find Jacobs. She called the police after she and her assistant discovered a room in her home was locked. The autopsy reports later revealed that Jacobs, who was 49 at the time, died by suicide. Though he didn't have drugs in his system at the time of death, toxicology reports stated that he had a "history of pseudoseizures, gastrointestinal bleeding, elevated liver enzymes, and chronic alcohol use."

Pickler remained quiet for months after the shocking news, until finally making a statement to People. "One of the most beautiful lessons my husband taught me was in a moment of a crisis, if you don't know what to do, 'do nothing, just be still,'" she wrote. "I have chosen to heed his advice." The "Feeling Tonight" singer went on to thank fans for their outpouring of support during the incredibly difficult time. "It has truly touched my soul and it's helping me get through the darkest time in my life. As many of you have told me, you are all in my prayers," she said. Pickler revealed she was planning an intimate memorial service for her late husband set for fall 2023. While grappling with the unexpected loss, the singer is reportedly unable to bear staying in her Nashville home.  

The star is taking a hiatus after her husband's death

Kellie Pickler is taking a step away from the spotlight following the death of her husband, Kyle Jacobs. After going quiet for months following the news, an insider revealed that the country singer will be taking a hiatus from her career. "It's just impossible for Kellie to be sunny and upbeat when her heart is still in tatters," a source told Radar Online

Shortly after the news of Jacobs' suicide, the singer left her position as the midday on-air host of Sirius XM's "The Highway" radio show in April 2023. She joined the show the previous February and worked as an on-air personality for over a year before making her exit.

The "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You" singer also reportedly canceled her plans to go on tour while grieving the loss. "Now Kellie's cleared her schedule," an insider told Radar Online. "Kellie wants time to heal and be alone with her thoughts. Her loved ones tell her she's doing the right thing. She needs to concentrate on herself — not her career."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues or thoughts related to suicide, contact the relevant resources below:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  • Help is available by calling or texting 988, or chat