It’s one of the biggest “what ifs” in country music.
Keith Whitley is already recognized as one of the greatest country singers of all time, despite only releasing two full albums before his death. With hits like “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “I’m No Stranger To The Rain,” “When You Say Nothing At All,” and one of my personal favorites, “I’m Over You,” it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Keith Whitley is the King of Country Music if he were still around.
But unfortunately Keith’s voice was silenced on May 9, 1989 at just 34 years old, and now we’re left with only questions about what could have been.
Keith passed away due to alcohol poisoning at his Tennessee home with a blood alcohol level of .47, a tragic end for one of the brightest stars in country music.
And to make it even more tragic, when Keith passed away, he had no idea that one of his biggest dreams was about to come true.
Since moving to Nashville, Keith Whitley dreamed of becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. The superstar had stood in the historic circle many times, filling country music’s most iconic venue with his incredible songs of love and heartbreak. But his ultimate goal was to become a member of the Opry.
And the Opry had plans to surprise Keith with an invitation to become a member. But unfortunately, Keith passed away before he ever got the invitation.
The Opry recently held a special star-studded tribute to Keith Whitley, featuring his widow Lorrie Morgan and their son Jesse Keith Whitley, along with Garth Brooks, Ashley McBryde, Mark Wills, and many others to honor the country music legend.
Whiskey Riff spoke with Lorrie and Jesse Keith before the show, where Lorrie spoke of her husband’s dream of becoming an Opry member.
And as she explained, Keith didn’t know that he was about to be made a member of the Grand Ole Opry when he passed away – something Lorrie found out from the Opry’s former general manager Hal Durham:
“He didn’t know it. It was a surprise that Hal Durham told me.
We walked up to Keith’s coffin, and we were both standing there, and I was holding onto Keith’s hand and Hal kinda shook his head and he said, ‘Just three weeks away from being a member.’”
Lorrie also wondered whether knowing he was about to be made a member of the Opry – something he had always dreamed of – would have been enough to keep Whitley going:
“I don’t know, if he would have known, if he would have maybe stayed calm a little longer, I don’t know. But I don’t ever know what made Keith do what Keith did.
But I just have a feeling, if he knew that was something that huge and special coming up for him, maybe it would have been something to keep him tame for a little while longer.
He would have been very excited. That was his dream. It was his #1 dream to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Just another in a long line of what-ifs for one of country music’s brightest stars taken from us all too soon.