DEAD: Tennessee Ernie Ford

DEAD: ON THIS DATE

Tennessee Ernie Ford (aged 72)
Musician (Sixteen Tons)

Ernest Jennings Ford (February 13, 1919 – October 17, 1991), known professionally as Tennessee Ernie Ford, was an American recording artist and television host who enjoyed success in the country and Western, pop, and gospel musical genres. Noted for his rich bass-baritone voice and down-home humor, he is remembered for his hit recordings of “The Shotgun Boogie” and “Sixteen Tons”.

DEATH: Out of the public eye, Ford and wife Betty contended with serious alcohol problems; Betty had had the problem since the 1950s as well as emotional issues that complicated both their lives and the lives of their sons. Though his drinking began to worsen in the 60s, he worked continuously, seemingly unaffected by his heavy intake of whiskey. By the 1970s, however, it had begun to take an increasing toll on his health, appearance and ability to sing, though his problems were not known publicly. After Betty’s substance abuse-related death in 1989, Ernie’s liver problems, diagnosed years earlier, became more apparent, but he refused to reduce his drinking despite repeated doctors’ warnings. His last interview was taped in September 1991 by his long-time friend Dinah Shore for her TV show.

Less than four months after Betty’s death, Ford married again. On September 28, 1991, he suffered severe liver failure at Dulles Airport, shortly after leaving a state dinner at the White House, hosted by then President George H. W. Bush. Ford died in H. C. A. Reston Hospital Center, in Reston, Virginia, on October 17. Ford was interred at Alta Mesa Memorial Park, Palo Alto, California. His second wife, Beverly Wood Ford (1921–2001), died 10 years after Ernie and her body was interred with his.

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