If you aren’t familiar with this incredible story, grab a seat, and get ready to read this next bit with your jaw dropped. The fact Hank Williams Jr. survived a fall like this one was one thing, but to have made a full recovery is another.
The accident happened in 1975, but it is essential to note where Williams’ or Bochepus’s (if you prefer) mental state was the prior year.
In 1974, Williams was wrapped up in drugs and alcohol, really struggling with the fact he was living in his father’s shadow. Early in his career, many thought of him as a mini-Hank Williams, and Jr. was not loving that reputation.
His struggles lead to a suicide attempt at the age of 25.
After this, Williams moved to Alabama, where he refocused his music, leading to the curation of the album that made Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams Jr… Hank Williams Jr. & Friends.
However, right before the album was released in 1975, tragedy struck.
While on a trip with Dick Willey, the two were hiking in Montana near the Idaho border. While hiking near Ajax Lake, the duo hit snowfall at about 9,000 feet of elevation (which is only 1,000 feet less than the 10,000-foot resting peak of Ajax). When Williams went to cross a portion of the hike, the snow shifted below him, and he fell down the side of the mountain, landing 500 feet below.
His face struck a boulder, fracturing his skull, and his nose, teeth, and jaw were broken into pieces.
If you have a weak stomach skip the following sentence…
His eyeballs were completely dislodged from their sockets, and his brain was partially exposed from the impact from his forehead with the boulder.
“I put my hands up to feel my nose. Where my nose should be, there’s nothing there. My teeth and parts of my jaw fall out in my hand.
I raise my hand to my forehead, and where my forehead should be, there’s something soft and squishy. That’s my brain, I think.”
Thankfully for Williams, Willey quickly found a park ranger that called for an emergency rescue, life-flighting him out of the mountain to Missoula Community Hospital. While getting Williams to the hospital out of an extremely desolate area was part of the battle, the second half was addressing the condition that the fall left him in.
Once at the hospital, Williams was in a seven-hour surgery to get him to a stable condition.
Hank Williams Jr. awoke after surgery to see his godmother June Carter Cash and her husband, the great Johnny Cash.
“When I fell, there were only two people I saw when I woke up in the hospital bed, and that was Johnny and June.
June put a cross on me and told me it was all going to be OK. I never knew if I would sing again or not, talk again or not, let alone think about what I was going to look like. It was a scary time.”
While Williams was stable and able to recall details of his life, the road to recovery was long for the singer. In total, he underwent nine additional surgeries to correct his head and face structurally.
While surgeries of that extent do not leave you without some battle scars, the one positive from them was that the signature Hank Williams Jr. look was born from it. In order to disguise some of the scarring and permanent visual damage, Hank grew out his beard and started wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat.
“I’ve had dreams about it. I should have died. The doctor said he had worked on plenty of boys in Vietnam, and, to be frank, they looked good compared to me.”
While many doctors did not have high expectations for William’s recovery, he gave them all a big middle finger and made a full recovery and then some. One doctor even said that he might never be able to sing again… well I’d say the double-digit album releases that came afterward proved them wrong.
Williams later opened up about the accident turning tragedy into art with his 1980 tune “All In Alabama,” where he tells the story of leaving Alabama and detailing the accident.
“Picked out a clear spot I thought a whole lot about The rest of my life I had no idea then, soon it would nearly end Up on this mountainside, I would nearly die
And they’re all in Alabama and They’re all in Dixieland God, I’m dying here in Montana, please Lord I just want to go back to hold her hand Just let me get back to my old homeland.”
Fast forward to today…
Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson commented on Williams’ Instagram post, noting the importance of the tune:
“As a kid I knew every word to “All in Alabama”, but only when I got older did I realized what every word actually meant to you.
You gotta say things you wanna say
Go on and do things your own way And you can climb any old mountain
Once you make up your mind
Keep on keeping on brother.”
The lyrics will make you tear up thinking about the emotion he had to relive putting these lyrics together.
Thank goodness for the higher powers that let Williams live past this accident. We’d miss out on many years of killer music, stories, and the legend of Hank Williams Jr. had he not survived.
Long live Bocephus.
Hank Williams Jr. discusses it more on a 1987 ABC 20/20 special.
14-Year-Old Hank Williams Jr. Make His TV Debut
Taking it back to the beginning.
Much like the name Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the racing world, when you think of country music, it’s hard not to immediately think Hank Williams, as well as his son, Hank Williams Jr.
Of course ol’ Hank is iconic as anybody to every pick up a guitar and sing country music, but ol’ Bocephus was, and still is, quite the powerhouse himself.
Throughout the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, nobody was cranking out music like Hank Jr., sometimes putting out two or three albums in a single year. He’s a five time Entertainer of the Year winner (both ACMs and CMAs), Grammy winner, and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He recently released a blues project, Rich White Honky Blues,which debuted at #1 on the Country, Americana, and Blues charts. A bluesman at heart, Hank Jr.’s father Hank Williams Sr. was taught to play guitar as a small child by a bluesman named Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne, so this project was a return to his roots.
But speaking of his roots, let’s take it all the way back to the early ’60s when Hank Jr. was just 14 years old.
In 1964, Hank Jr. made his first television appearance of his career on ABC’s The Jimmy Dean Show.
Already standing over 6 feet, the youngster performed a number of his dad’s hits, including “Long Gone Lonesome Blues.”
When Jimmy introduced Hank Jr., he called Hank Sr. his favorite songwriter:
“My favorite songwriter, I think I would have to say Hank Williams. He wrote with a lot of heart, he was a fine performer… we are delighted to have his son with us, and we’d like you to give a nice, warm welcome to Mr. Hank Williams Jr.”
Written and released by Hank Williams in 1950, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” was his second-career #1 single on the Country & Western Charts.
Hank Jr. would release a cover himself in 1964, and that would go on to peak at #5 of the chart.
And the rest is history…
Hank Williams Jr. On The Pressure To Be Like His Father: “It Was Driving Me Crazy”
I can’t imagine the pressure that comes with being a famous person’s child.
Especially when the famous person passed away at a young age, and the child is expected to fill the parent’s shoes and continue the legacy, just like Hank Williams Jr. had to do.
As most know, Hank Williams passed away when he was only 29-years-old due to a long battle with alcohol and drug abuse, when Hank Jr. was only three-years-old.
As soon as Hank Jr. turned five, he was pressured by his mother, Audrey Williams, and the rest of the country music world to become exactly like his father, and become the next Hank Williams.
In an ABC 20/20 segment with Barbara Walters back in 1987, Hank Jr. detailed the struggles he faced while always being compared to his father growing up.
“It was always ‘Your daddy went through this stuff, and you’ll have to go through it. We have to go through these things (booze and drugs)’ ya know… depression, that’s a big sport to a lot of these people I think.
It was just drilled into me a lot.”
He discussed how he was already playing shows and covering his father’s songs at an incredibly young age:
“I was on the road when I was eight. When they came to see an eight to 10 year old it wasn’t for his wonderful voice, it was because he was the son of Hank Williams.
They were trying to give me a drink when I was 10 or 12, you know saying ‘Hey give ol’ Hank a little drink here,’ the old steel player and everything.”
He was then asked if anybody ever told him he wasn’t supposed to drink and take pills, and he responded:
“No, the road wasn’t ever like that. I grew up quick… I was in the hospital several times, all the way out. The pills, you know, the whiskey, and the whole thing. I was really rolling in it.
I thought I was gonna die a couple times and it scared the heck out of me.”
He also weighed in on the pressure he felt from fans to be like his father, and if it didn’t sound exactly like his father sounded, he would take heat for it:
“They’d be like ‘Sing Hey Good Lookin’,’ and I’d just be like, ‘well I just sang it, you were just so drunk you didn’t hear it or I’m just gonna do this other one.'”
“Oh you little sore, your daddy would have…”
“So that didn’t go over too good… I punched one of ’em, in Salt Lake City and boy that felt good. It was driving me crazy.
I had a psychiatrist tell me he said, ‘Hey you’ve been living, talk like, act like, be like, sing like your daddy, your lifestyles exactly like his, and you’re gonna be gone too.’
I said ‘To hell with this, I’m not putting up with this crap.'”
That’s when he decided at the age of 26 to go a completely different direction with his country music career, and become his own person, transforming into the Hank Jr. we all know and love, taking his influence from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles.
He began to pursue a different sound that mixed together southern rock, the blues, and country music all into one.
Nevertheless, it truly is hard to fathom the amount of pressure he felt on the daily growing up to become a spitting image of his father… but despite that pressure, he emerged a legend in his own right.