35 Years Ago Today, The Country Music World Tragically Lost Keith Whitley

Keith Whitley country music
Keith Whitley

A legend gone too soon.

On this date, May 9th, 1989, the country music world tragically said goodbye to the great Keith Whitley. At just 34 years old (possibly 33), Whitley succumbed to his alcohol abuse, dying in his bed of alcohol poisoning, with a blood alcohol level of .47. His wife, fellow country singer Lorrie Morgan, had recently left for a show in Alaska. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was set to be invited to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry three weeks later.

In an interview a few months prior to his death, Whitley spoke very candidly about his battle with alcohol:

”I learned to do things the way the old-timers did it. I thought everybody had to drink to be in this business. Lefty drank, Hank drank, George Jones was still drinking, and I had to. That`s just the way it was. You couldn`t put that soul in your singing if you weren`t about three sheets in the wind.

That was just the way we did it in Sandy Hook. And it was a lot of fun. For me, the past isn’t deep and dark; I had a lot of fun I couldn’t have had any other way. But somewhere along the way it turned on me. Where it used to be a friend, it became an enemy.”

However, in his short career, he became one of the most influential artists to put their mark on the country music world.

With hit songs like “When You Say Nothing At All,” “I’m No Stranger To The Rain,” “Miami, My Amy,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and more, you’d be hard pressed to find a country artist right now (at least a good one) that wouldn’t call Whitley a huge inspiration. He was truly one of a kind.

He was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October of 2022.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes”

“I’m No Stranger To The Rain”

“When You Say Nothing At All”

Shortly after Keith’s death in 1989, Vince Gill began writing “Go Rest High On That Mountain” in his honor.

Vince didn’t finish this song however, until his older brother passed away in 1993:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock