The Tragic Mystery of Tammy Wynette, Country Music Legend

Country music has produced the world’s most iconic and soulful singers, and Tammy Wynette is no exception. Now a legend, the “First Lady of Country Music” was a shining star who put raw emotion into her music. Though most fans never knew it, she had a textured life with tough beginnings, and much of her musical themes reflect this journey. It wouldn’t be easy to prove she could make it on her own.

Tammy Wynette was born in 1942 on a family farm in rural Mississippi. Her mother was an office clerk and her father was a farmer and musician. No one could have known it, but things were about to change for the Wynettes.

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When she was just nine months old, Tammy’s father passed from a brain tumor. Her mother left Tammy with her grandparents and moved to Memphis for work. But life with her grandparents was less flowers and sunshine and more working in the sun.

Tammy’s home life wasn’t easy. For starters, the house lacked running water and indoor toilets. Adding insult to injury, her grandparents also made her pick cotton when she was only seven! 

While manual labor wasn’t pleasant, it was highly formative for Wynette. It’s how she got a work ethic that would fuel her music career. Even after all her future success, Wynette always kept a bowl of cotton in her home to remember her origins. 

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Besides picking cotton, Tammy’s childhood was shaped when she found a variety of musical instruments her father left behind. Little did she know, the inspiration for her love ballads was soon to come. 

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Wynette’s lifelong search for love became a heavy saga in her life. Her first marriage to Euple Byrd came when she was only 17 and still in high school. Needless to say, it wasn’t the fairytale she’d been hoping for.

Byrd had a tough time keeping a job, which made Wynette work several jobs while raising their children. She worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a barmaid, and eventually a hairdresser. Even with all her hard work, her deadbeat husband wasn’t supportive of her musical ambitions. 

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The couple split when Tammy was 20. As the story goes, Euple told her, “Dream on, baby,” as he drove away. Years later, he asked for her autograph after one of her concerts, and she signed it simply, “Dream on, Baby.”

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Tammy dreamt on, but the beginning of her music career was tough. Sometimes she’d wake up before sunrise to sing on local TV before work. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a stepping stone, and she did it with her head held high. 

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Tammy wanted to take her singing to the next level and moved to Nashville, the heart of country music. After quite a few rejections, Billy Sherrill of Epic Records produced a song with her. But she was just getting started!

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Now that she was an official recording artist, Tammy had what it took to make it big. In 1968 she recorded “Stand by Your Man,” and the song was an enormous hit. Things were going pretty great, at least for a little while. 

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As she gained global success Tammy married her second husband Don Chapel. But after some time, she figured out that he had secretly taken and shared naked photos of her. He broke her trust and the marriage was over.

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In 1969 Tammy fell in love with country music star George Jones. Together they made music and toured just like in “A Star is Born.” Tammy even won Female Vocalist of the Year three years in a row!

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Things were going great until Tammy began suffering from several chronic health issues. She also became addicted to painkillers as George’s alcoholism became more of a problem. The honeymoon was definitely over. 

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The couple’s marriage eventually became violent. George was known to beat Tammy so she divorced him in 1973. Hoping he’d changed, she took him back, but their problems only got worse. They finally broke up again in 1975, but it wasn’t the end for these two. 

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Tammy and George continued working together as friends on music. But eventually, she sued him for unpaid child support. Around the same time, Tammy dated Burt Reynolds before marrying real estate executive Michael Tomlin in 1976. Sadly the marriage lasted only 44 days. 

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Tammy’s love life spiral didn’t end there. Her worst marriage yet was to songwriter George Richey in 1978. He took control of Tammy’s career and it tanked. He was also known to beat her. 

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Tammy was allegedly kidnapped and beaten up while at a Nashville shopping mall in 1978. She got away, but things took a twisted turn: her daughter Jackie Daly revealed in a memoir that she thought Tammy fabricated the kidnapping as a cover-up for the bruises George Richey gave her. 

When ex-husband George Jones heard about a health scare Tammy had in 1993, he became concerned. He rushed to her side for support and their friendship was rekindled. They even went on to record a reunion album.

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In an abrupt end to her whirlwind life, Tammy passed away at 55 while sleeping on her couch. An autopsy pointed to heart issues, but her daughters have unresolved feelings about the cause. All in all, Tammy led a troubled life but, her voice certainly soared. And her legacy has only grown in the years since.

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Tammy paved the way for female singers in country music, along with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. The trio also teamed up for a memorable performance of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles,” and they also supported each other behind the scenes. Wynette knew that her peers struggled just as much as her.

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After all, growing up one of eight children in a poor Kentucky household isn’t exactly the kind of thing that softens a person up. In fact, Loretta Lynn family was so poor that they couldn’t even afford wallpaper — they glued pages from Sears catalogs on the walls instead.

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But Loretta managed escape this life at the ripe young age of 15, marrying Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn just a month after meeting him and moving to the logging community of Custer, Washington, soon after. Yet even with a new start, things were far from picture perfect.

Doolittle was a notorious womanizer and alcoholic, and on numerous occasions arguments between the couple turned physical. Loretta, however, didn’t take his abuse lying down, later recalling that “he never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice.”

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Yet the constant ups and downs of her marriage took a toll, and by the time she was just 20 years old she found herself an overworked and underappreciated mother of three. Loretta longed for simpler times back in Kentucky — then, in 1953, Doolittle bought her a guitar.

It wasn’t much — a $17 Harmony, to be exact — but as soon as her fingers touched the strings, life seemed just a little sweeter. She quickly taught herself how to play, and pretty soon, Loretta even began writing her own songs.

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While her rocky relationship provided plenty of material, her daily life also inspired some of her very first hits. The song “Whispering Sea” came to her while on a fishing trip with her family, and she actually penned “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” on a brown paper bag while working in a strawberry field.

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As tumultuous as things sometimes were between he and Loretta, Doolittle actually had great faith in his wife’s music and even volunteered to be her manager. With his encouragement, Loretta formed her first band, the Trailblazers, in the late ’50s and began playing shows at bars and small venues around Washington.

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By 1960, Loretta had landed her first recording deal with Canadian record company Zero Records, though she grew discouraged when the label failed to effectively promote her music. She resolved to take matters into her own hands, driving across the state to hand deliver her recordings to radio stations.

Her persistence paid off, as by the time she and Doolittle relocated their family to Nashville, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” had reached No. 14 on Billboard‘s Country and Western chart. She signed a deal with Decca Records soon after, and as 1960 came to a close, Loretta was considered one of the most promising young artists in country.

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She then made good on these high expectations with her first Decca single, aptly named “Success,” which went straight to No. 6 on the charts. She then followed up with “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” which made Loretta the first female country artist to record a No. 1 hit.

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More country No. 1s followed, with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “Fist City,” and the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter” all hitting the top spot. Loretta had become country music’s biggest star, though that didn’t mean she was free from controversy.

As the ’70s rolled around, Loretta’s songs began to reflect topics that most in the industry found taboo, including the Vietnam War (“Dear Uncle Sam”), repeated childbirth (“One’s on the Way”), and even birth control (“The Pill”). This led some radio stations to limit her airtime and even ban her music outright.

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To top it off, Doolittle was still up to his drunken, adulterous ways, and Loretta would sometimes spend up to 200 days on the road just so she didn’t have to come home to him. These highs and lows ultimately culminated in her 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became an immediate New York Times best seller.

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In fact, the book was so popular it even inspired the 1980 movie of the same name starring Sissy Spacek. The film proved to be an unexpected smash hit, reaching No. 1 at the U.S. box office and earning seven Academy Award nominations.

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Despite this string of success, the ’80s had a markedly different feel to them for Loretta as her next slew of albums struggled to chart. Still, 1988 proved a big year for the country star, as she was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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She bounced back in a big way in 1993, teaming up with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette to record the trio album Honky Tonk Angels, which peaked at No. 6. A few years later, her single “Country in My Genes” made her the first woman in country music to chart in five different decades.

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In 2004, Loretta skyrocketed back to the top with Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White of The White Stripes. The album was ranked as one of the best in all of music for that year, and it went on to win Best Country Album at the Grammys.

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Since then, Loretta has continued to record and perform sporadically, having just celebrated her 88th birthday this past April. Many of today’s country stars cite the Kentucky songstress as an enormous influence, though there would be no Loretta Lynn without another country legend.

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Patsy Cline. One of Loretta’s earliest hits was actually a cover of her song “I Fall to Pieces,” which Patsy heard her perform on the radio and immediately drove out to meet her. Yet their relationship went beyond just being musical acquaintances.

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Loretta and Patsy were actually the best of friends, with Loretta releasing a full album entitled I Remember Patsy shortly after her death. It should come as no surprise that the two were so close, as Loretta and Patsy were practically cut from the same cloth.

Like Loretta, Patsy — born Virginia Patterson Hensley (right) — had a pretty rough go of it as a child growing up in Winchester, Virginia. Her family was incredibly poor, and with the Great Depression in full swing, Patsy spent most of her childhood helping make ends meet.

In place of school she worked a variety of odd jobs, including stints at a soda shop and even at a poultry factory where she plucked and butchered chickens. Things couldn’t get much worse for young Patsy — then, of course, they did.

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At age 13, Patsy was hospitalized with a throat infection and rheumatic fever, which forced her to spend days in an oxygen tent and even stopped her heart. But when Patsy finally emerged from the tent and opened her mouth to speak, something had changed.

Somehow, the infection and treatment had transformed her voice into a booming contralto. This revelation led Patsy to develop an interest in singing, and soon, she was performing duets with her mother at church social events.

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Emboldened by her newfound ability, Patsy reached out to the fabled Grand Ole Opry and landed an audition — at age 15! Unfortunately, nothing came of the performance, though it wouldn’t be long before Patsy finally got the big break she was after.

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At age 20, Patsy left small-town life behind when she began performing with bandleader Bill Peer, whom she also struck up a rather scandalous affair with. Her relationship with a married man soured her reputation in Winchester, though it was, in part, thanks to Peer that she became Patsy Cline.

While touring with Peer, Patsy met a Maryland contractor named George Cline and wed him in 1953, taking his last name as her own. At Peer’s behest, she opted to change her first name to something more “stage friendly,” drawing inspiration from her middle name “Patterson” — Patsy Cline was born.

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Despite her marriage, Patsy continued her relationship Peer, and he was actually the one who helped her prepare her very first demo tapes. Soon enough, Patsy landed a contract with Four Star Records, though it was far from something to celebrate.

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The terms of the contract were highly unfavorable, with Four Star collecting nearly all of the profits made off Patsy’s recordings and performances. To top it off, the label struggled to find a fit for her uncommonly deep voice and had her record everything from pop to gospel, leading her to little mainstream success.

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It wasn’t until Patsy began making TV and radio appearances that she gained national recognition, resulting in an invitation to perform in a talent competition in New York. Debuting the song “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy stole the show and won the whole thing with ease.

In fact, audiences were so taken with “Walkin’ After Midnight” that Four Star rushed its release as a single. The song proved to be Patsy’s breakout hit, reaching the number-two spot on the Billboard Hot Country and Western Sides chart and propelling her to stardom — at least, for a time.

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Patsy’s 1957 debut album and subsequent singles proved to be far less successful than her first hit, leading her career to stall around the turn of the decade. Unwilling to become a one-hit wonder, Patsy packed up her things and headed for the one place she knew she could find success…

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Nashville. Here, Patsy’s career found new life as she landed steady gigs and rubbed elbows with country’s biggest names: she was even admitted as an official member of the Grand Ole Opry! Things were looking up for ‘ol Patsy — then, tragedy struck.

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While driving home from a day of shopping Patsy’s car was hit head-on by another vehicle, sending her flying into the car windshield. She was rushed to the hospital and into surgery just quick to save her life, though she required significant plastic surgery and suffered intense headaches for the rest of her life.

Yet this wasn’t enough to keep Patsy Cline down, as just six weeks later she returned to the stage with more strength and emotion than ever before. Her single “I Fall to Pieces” became her first song to top the charts, though it was a Willie Nelson-penned number that proved to be the defining hit of her career.

That song was “Crazy,” which Patsy originally refused to record and then struggled to perform as the result of lingering injuries from her accident. But when it all came together, it was magic, and the song quickly became one of her signatures as well as a country standard.

Success followed Patsy through the rest of the early ’60s, and it was also during this time that she performed a 35-day residency in Las Vegas, becoming the first female country artist to headline her own Vegas show. Yet the experience proved detrimental to Patsy, and soon, she began having unusual premonitions of an untimely demise.

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According to fellow country stars Dottie West and Loretta Lynn, Patsy relayed to them a feeling of impending doom in early 1963, explaining that she had an eerie sense that she wouldn’t live much longer. Her friends wrote it off as mere paranoia — that’d be the last time they’d ever see her again.

On March 5, 1963, the plane Patsy was flying in on the way home from a benefit in Kansas crashed in the Tennessee wilderness after the pilot ignored warnings about inclement weather. Search and rescue quickly located the wreckage, though, sadly, there were no survivors. Patsy was just 30 years old.

Despite her short time in the spotlight, Patsy remains one of the most influential country artists of all time. Her music, style, and iconic voice have served to inspire many of the industry’s biggest names, including another unforgettable songstress…

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Dolly Parton! The talented Tennessee sweetheart cites Patsy as one of her biggest influences, and over her 73 rockin’ years she’s followed a path that the late legend would’ve been proud of. Dolly’s road to fame was unlike any other, though, and along the way, she may have harbored a secret or two.

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She grew up in a musical family along the Great Smoky Mountains, writing twangy tunes since childhood. Adolescent Dolly’s talent took her to places far and wide… or at least to local television and radio stations; she became a regular on Knoxville TV and radio program the “Cas Walker Show.”

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She gives credit to her former songwriting partner and beloved family member, Uncle Bill Owens, for generously guiding her into the music industry. Good ol’ Uncle Bill gave Dolly her first real guitar at the ripe age of 8 and assisted in getting her a songwriting contract in Nashville.

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The day after her high school graduation, the not-so dumb blonde packed a shabby cardboard suitcase full of future country anthems and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where she fulfilled her country-born dreams of super stardom.

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Dolly sang her way to Nashville’s eminent Music Row, nailing a spot on “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967. Her and Porter Wagoner were the dynamic duo in the early ’70s and were awarded two Country Music Association awards for Duo of the Year. Soon enough though, Dolly went solo.

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After winning a bundle of her own CMA awards, Dolly took her talents to the big screen in 1980’s whimsical satire film, 9 to 5. Dolly’s vibrant star power, adjacent to female forces Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, skyrocketed her into the mainstream world of pop culture.

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Incredibly, Dolly P nabbed an Oscar nomination in 1981 for Best Original Song in 9 to 5, the song sharing the same name as the beloved comedy. Though she charmed her way into the acting world, singing and songwriting proved to be her forever loves.

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Today, Dolly is considered rhinestone-studded royalty in the music industry, as she’s sold over 100 million records worldwide, accumulated 9 Grammys and 11 CMAs, and was honored with a deserving induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Recently, though, fans started to notice something about her.

See, with smash hits such as “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” Dolly has accrued several generations of listeners and fans. They’ve seen her perform on both the big and small screens, and they’ve seen her particular tastes in fashion.

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Her fans know she loves campy, eye-popping, country-inspired glitz and glam… and a plethora of rhinestones. She’s donned so many memorable looks, but there’s a peculiar detail that’s been present in every single one of her ensembles for the past few decades…

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Long sleeves. Why is Dolly always sporting lengthy, enveloping sleeves? Though you may be able to catch sight of vintage photos of the songstress and author bearing short sleeves, it’s been years since nearly anyone has seen her bare arms; and we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed.

It’s been a strange Hollywood mystery for some time now, and for years, fans have theorized about what the country darling could be hiding beneath her boundless sleeves. The likes of Jennifer Saunders and Roseanne Barr, however, have assisted in uncovering the secret.

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In 2011, Roseanne spilled the beans about what lies under Dolly’s trademark sleeves. She publicly told Craig Ferguson about her inside scoop on his talk show, even having admitted that she “shouldn’t even tell this.”

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“She showed me. She’s got all these awesome tattoos all over her body — no black or blue lines, all like pastel, gorgeous bows all over everything,” Roseanne claimed. Jennifer Saunders, meanwhile, spoke of what she witnessed when she ran into Dolly at an LA restaurant.

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The Absolutely Fabulous star said that Dolly simply opened her top, having offered up a portfolio of stunning tattoo work to Saunders, which covered her arms and chest. “They were the most beautiful angels, and beautiful butterflies, and baskets of flowers in pastel-colored tattoos,” Saunders gushed on Channel 7’s Sunday Night. There was still no hard proof, though.

Apparently, Dolly asked for her body art to be kept a secret, but observant fans thought they spotted a butterfly tattoo through Dolly’s somewhat-sheer blouse sleeve back in 2006 while she posed with her cherished 9 to 5 costars.

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It was in 2012 when a red carpet photo of Dolly emerged with what seemed to be a bit of a rose-tinged tattoo peeking out from the center of her cleavage. When journalist Anderson Cooper pressed her about said photo, Dolly insisted that the photo was fake.

And when Cooper flat out asked her if she had any tattoos, Dolly said “I might. But I’m not going to show ’em ’til they catch me at it.” In more recent years, anyhow, she’s been more relaxed and open about the whole tat ordeal.

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Dolly Parton admitted in an interview with Larry King that she originally got her pastel ink to cover up some keloid scarring. “I have a tendency to scar easily, and I’m so fair-skinned that I stay purple right where I’ve had a scar,” the country star explained.

Dolly Parton

In 2017, Dolly told Vanity Fair, “I don’t really like to make a big to-do of [the tattoos] because people make such a big deal over every little thing.” She even defended herself when she spoke with Larry King, having urged that she “wouldn’t be a biker chick or anything!”

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