Who Is Do Da? Observations of a Hippie, Biker, Harmonica Guy Gone Philanthropist

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But Hank's heart-worn delivery turned it into a country monster. When he performed it on the Opry in late January, , he tore the place apart. Mitch Miller, looking for a song to follow up 'Because Of You', Tony Bennett's initial chart-topper, grabbed 'Cold Cold Heart' with alacrity, had Percy Faith write a lush string arrangement, talked the unwilling singer into recording the song — Bennett thought it far too hokey — then sat back and waited for the sales figures to accrue. And they did, Bennett's record topping the US charts for six weeks.

According to Williams' one-time fiddle-player Jerry Rivers, Hank just couldn't hear Bennett's cover often enough and played it over and over every time he found it on a jukebox. Having had one success with a Hank Williams song, Miller looked for more. All of the cover versions were major hits and the money poured into the Williams household. In August he was also the man who fired him — Hank's bouts of boozing and pill-popping had made him miss too many radio shots and concerts. Their first meeting was hardly a bonding experience, Hank having to be sobered-up beforehand.

On another occasion Denny had his wayward charge flown back to Madison Hospital where he'd been several times previously for rest and recuperation following a particularly bad spell at the Baltimore Hippodrome. I ain't never been in Baltimore. If I come back, it'll be twice I've been here. We did four shows a day for a week.

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He was so drunk on-stage that he'd sway back on his heels and then forward on his toes. The pit band moved out of the way while he was on. But the inside man failed miserably. Hank got him drunk. He accrued another eight major hits of his own and turned on many pop performers in the process. Then there was the downside. Promoting a patent cure-all medicine, the Hadacol Caravan was a tour by rail, the artistes travelling in 19 luxury Pullman cars; admission free with two Hadacol packet tops per adult and one per child, it cost a million to mount over its day run.

And, no matter where the Caravan played.

Hank still had to return to Nashville for his Saturday night Opry gigs. His health, never good, began to slide. The booze and pills didn't help.

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Nor did Audrey. Don Helms, who claims he took Hank to the Madison Sanatorium many times. A hunting accident had exacerbated his back pain and major surgery was scheduled. According to Hank, the surgeons discovered that the problems were worse than first thought — he had two ruptured discs. A less than successful operation was performed leaving Hank in no shape to resume touring. As always, Hank ignored all advice and discharged himself from hospital, first returning to Audrey for a family Christmas during which he threw a chair at her.

Visitors reported that one of the doors to the Williams home was riddled with bullet holes after one of their battles. Worse still, over the New Year he had to remain home while Audrey fronted The Drifting Cowboys, his only contribution to the dates being a pre-recorded message explaining his inability to appear. In January , claiming that she was in fear of her life, Audrey requested that Hank move out of the family abode, then filed for divorce, stating "cohabitation was unsafe and improper", which came through on May Hank was in bad shape.

It was a dreadful occasion for me because I loved Hank. Though he constantly suffered from bouts of the DTs, Hank continued to tour, albeit spasmodically. He missed Audrey, but he would show her he didn't need her. He did so by marrying year-old divorcee Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar three times, once conventionally and then twice more next day, on-stage at New Orleans Municipal Auditorium before paying audiences at the matinee and evening shows.

Photographs taken at the wedding on October 18, depict a healthy looking Hank, who'd actually gained weight.

There was little indication that he had but three months left to live. I even stayed drunk for three years once trying to be like him. But it didn 't work. Within a few days he was readmitted to the sanatorium. A filed report noted: "This year-old [sic] man has been admitted for Rx of acute alcoholic intoxication. States he has been on the road for seven weeks playing various stage commitments and has been drinking steadily for the entire period. Complains of chest pains, especially over upper chest regions.

States that deep breathing greatly exaggerates pain. Has had almost constant cold and cough for past several weeks. Has taken many kinds of antibiotics in huge quantities. After the split with Audrey, Hank had moved in with singer Ray Price. Lonesome as hell, he took up with Bobbie Jett, a Nashville secretary.

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Within weeks she was pregnant. The baby was due around the beginning of January Though Hank wouldn't admit that he was the father, just two days before he married Billie Jean he signed an agreement that Bobbie would receive various monies. The document began, "In view of the fact that the paternity of said child is in doubt Jett does hereby release the said Hank Williams from any and all further claims arising out her condition or the birth of the said child. Now and then, he'd turn up to play shows, mainly at honky-tonk joints, which he hated.

And when he did appear he was unpredictable. After one stumbling, drunken performance he had to escape his hotel via the tradesmen's entrance and head at full speed for the county line. In Lafayette, he merely stalked on to the stage, yelled, "You paid to see ol' Hank, didn't ya?


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Fellow performers began describing Hank's appearance as being like the living dead. At one point, he was found in the back of a car, hardly breathing. He was taking morphine, chloral hydrate, dextro-amphetamine sulphate — anything that dulled the pain in his back and the devil that lived in his head. Obtaining drugs was no problem; Doc Marshall gave him blank prescriptions and pointed him in the direction of the nearest pharmacy — a course of treatment one might expect from a man who, before buying his phony doctor's diploma, had done time in San Quentin for armed robbery.

For years nobody questioned this particular version of Hank's hardly unexpected demise. However, a report by highway patrolman Swann Kitts surfaced some years later and cast doubts on the official line. Printed in the Knoxville Journal, it alleged that Williams and Carr had caught a plane out of Knoxville on December 31, but had been forced to return to the airport due to bad weather. Hank, completely drunk, reportedly managed a few words as he was carried to a room in the town's Andrew Johnson Hotel. A Dr Cardwell claims that he was called to the hotel, where he found Hank drunk but still capable of holding some form of conversation.

He gave the singer two injections of morphine and B A couple of hours later, Carr and some hotel porters clothed the inert Williams and carried him to his car. The original intention, it seems, was that Hank would spend the night at the Andrew Johnson. An hour later, at I noticed Williams and asked if he could be dead, as he was pale and blue-looking.

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But he said Williams had drunk six bottles of beer and a doctor had given him two injections to help him sleep. He asked me not to wake him up.


Driver Carr denies many points in this story. According to his version, they did stay at the hotel after the plane failed to make the trip to Canton. He also agreed that a doctor attended Williams but did not inject the singer with morphine but merely gave him some vitamins, after which, receiving telephoned orders from somebody unknown, it was decided to push on by car. It was the version of events that Nashville favoured at the time. Less messy, less likely to cause a decline in Hank's record sales.

After all, in the record business, there's life after death. Hank may have only been 29, but there were those around who reckoned he might make it to 50 in terms of sales years. The Beckley, West Virginia pathologist who examined Hank's body came up with a dream autopsy report. Hank had died of haemorrhages in his heart and neck.

There were traces of alcohol in the bloodstream but no evidence of narcotics.

The death certificate recorded the cause of death as "acute right vetricular dilation". What drugs? Hank Williams hasn't answered yet. The municipal auditorium was packed. Outside, another 20, mourned. Jim Denny took a look around and mused to a friend that if Hank could raise the lid of his coffin, he'd take a look around and yell, "I told you dumb sons of bitches I could draw more dead than you could alive!

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It would prove to be his eighth Number 1. As Audrey and Billie Jean each attempted to grab their piece of the action, MGM turned over its entire pressing plant to producing Hank Williams records. Before they dropped from the listings, 'Take These Chains From My Heart' was on hand to ensure Hank's domination of country music's pole position.

In his lifetime, Hank had only issued two albums. His meagre supply of releases was about to create a whole industry, one which would find him singing along to string arrangements, others in which later voices, his son's and his grandson's, would be dubbed alongside his to a Southern rock backing. There'd be a film, with music by Hank Jr and George Hamilton providing an amazingly inaccurate screen portrait of a Hank who performed songs he never actually got around to singing on- stage. And there'd also be a regular supply of tribute albums by George Jones, Ronnie Hawkins, Ray Price and countless others.