The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Randy Travis

Randy Travis is an unabashed country traditionalist, a man who brought old-fashioned styles back to the genre after it veered in a distinctly glossy and pop direction in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After bumming around the Nashville fringes for awhile, largely unsuccessfully and under his real name of Randy Traywick, Travis hit big in 1985 with a years-long string of top five country smashes, including "On the Other Hand," "Honky Tonk Moon," "Look Heart, No Hands," and the immortal "Forever and Ever, Amen."

However, things have been far from easy for Randy Travis. It's both cliched and glib to compare the life of a country music star to the events of a country music song, but it's undeniable that Travis — a velvet-throated, all-American crooner — has experienced a number of life-changing (and nearly life-ending) events that sound like they came straight out of a story song written by one of his peers or predecessors. From his harrowing childhood to his devastating health problems, here's the tragic real-life story of Randy Travis.

Randy Travis grew up with a fearsome father

Randy Travis was pushed into the musical way at an early age by his father, who gave all of his children instruments and entered them in conventions and contests. As Travis wrote in his memoir Forever and Ever, Amen, at the age of nine, he and his brother Ricky were performing under their real last name as the Traywick Brothers, and they became regular performers at all kinds of events in and around their North Carolina hometown of Marshville. However, their father was a stern, exacting taskmaster. "Daddy expected us to win," Travis wrote. "He was tough on us, too, yelling at us if we hit a wrong note. If I didn't sing a song just right, Daddy often made me start over from the beginning."

Travis' mother, on the other hand, "was a saint" and sometimes bore the brunt of her husband's darker impulses. Travis said that when he was about ten, his father "got drunk and started beating on Mama." That's when Travis sprang into action. As he put it, "So I took up for her, jumped on him, and pulled him off her." Immediately after, Travis ran out of the family home, his father giving chase with a raised gun. Travis wrote that he hid in a nearby cornfield "for two days trembling with trepidation — with no food or water" until he was sure his father was sober again.

He was a wayward teen

Despite being a well-known musician as a child and teen around Marshville, North Carolina, Randy Travis wasn't so busy as to stay out of trouble. His teen years were fully wayward, and in his book, Forever and Ever, Amen, Travis described himself and his brother Ricky as "juvenile delinquents." In addition to getting into scuffles with local toughs, Travis struck out on his own, hanging out with an older crowd. "I was smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol by the time I was ten years old," Travis wrote. "Not long after that I was using marijuana regularly."

Travis says he routinely skipped school and amassed such a poor report card that he dropped out for good after the eighth grade. Another thing he amassed? A hefty rap sheet. Among the future star's youthful hijinks were charges for breaking and entering (for throwing a "beer party" in a church), public drunkenness, driving under the influence, and attempting to elude police. That last one is related to teen Travis' habit of driving "too fast and too recklessly." He rolled his first truck, a '65 Chevy, three separate times. He also recalled totaling two other trucks, a couple of cars, and a horse and buggy. (The horse survived. The buggy did not.)

Randy Travis was arrested for public intoxication

Back in February 2012, Randy Travis was living on the Chrysalis Ranch, a fancy spread outside the small Texas town of Tioga. Now, Tioga is about 20 miles away from the town of Sanger, and that's where, according to The Dallas Morning News, Travis had a very boozy run-in with the law.

Around eight years ago, a Sanger police officer was doing his rounds at about 1:30 AM on the morning after the Super Bowl, when he noticed a suspicious vehicle parked outside the First Baptist Church. When the officer went to investigate, he found Travis behind the wheel of that 1998 Pontiac, smelling significantly of alcohol and with an open wine bottle in the passenger's seat. Travis, who reportedly slurred his words and stumbled while exiting his car, said he'd had an argument with his girlfriend and was trying to make his way home, and that he already thought he was in Tioga. 

All these clues led Travis to be arrested and booked on a Class C misdemeanor citation of public intoxication. According to police spokesman Tom Reedy (via CBS News), Travis was held for several hours in the county jail — which is safety protocol for when someone is discovered drunk in public — and ultimately released around 8 AM. That same day, Travis released an explanatory statement to the Associated Press. "I apologize for what resulted following an evening of celebrating the Super Bowl," Travis wrote. "I'm committed to being responsible and accountable, and apologize for my actions."

Randy Travis' wild night

According to a Dallas NBC affiliate, Randy Travis went to his regular convenience store in Tioga, Texas, one night in August 2012 and asked for cigarettes. It was a normal exchange, except for how Travis was naked. When the clerk asked Travis how he planned to pay for his smokes — he didn't appear to have a wallet — Travis got angry and left. The cashier called 911 to report the incident, and dispatch soon thereafter fielded another call about a nude man, this time lying by the side of the road. Officers arrived to find the country star bruised, smelling of alcohol, and not far from where a totaled Pontiac had crashed into construction barricades. After Travis refused field sobriety tests, police told the singer they'd have to take him in, at which point he threatened to kill those authorities. After posting bond of $21,500, Travis was released from jail the next morning.

Video of the arrest was later made public, despite Travis' wife, Mary Davis-Travis, suing to prevent that from happening, citing an invasion of privacy. In 2019, in his memoir Forever and Ever, Amen (via, Travis stated that he actually hadn't consumed all that much alcohol at the time of the incident. But in addition to two glasses of wine, he'd also taken the sleep drug Ambien, which can result in extreme behavioral side effects.

The country singer suffered a massive stroke

Less than a year after a drug-and-alcohol related ordeal that left his car totaled and him wandering around a small Texas town naked, Randy Travis endured a chain of increasingly awful and alarming medical events. According to one of his doctors, who spoke with Today, Travis was in otherwise fine health until June 2013, when he contracted a viral upper respiratory illness. Before long, Travis was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle infection generally caused by the Coxsackie B virus. While symptoms are like those of a bad cold — fever, sore throat, headache, stomach discomfort — it also brings with it chest and muscle pain, and it can damage the cells of the heart and cause the organ to beat arrhythmically. All of that can lead to permanent heart damage, or it can prove fatal.

It got worse for Travis. After being diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy and recovering from a medical procedure to increase blood flow at a Baylor Health Care System facility in Dallas, Travis looked to be on the mend. Then he experienced a complication of his condition, technically congestive heart failure, in the form of a massive stroke. That problem, in turn, required Travis to undergo surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. Fortunately, he made it through the operation, and while he was initially listed in critical condition, Travis was out of the hospital three weeks after his medical crisis began.

His life was profoundly changed by his stroke

In 2013, Randy Travis left his Dallas hospital after dealing with heart issues and a stroke back-to-back, but he wasn't back to his old, healthy, big-voiced self just like that, nor were his medical procedures free of complication. According to a 2017 interview in The Tennessean (via USA Today), the singer faced a surgical survival rate of 1 to 2 percent. He did survive, of course, but the road to recovery was long and extremely difficult. After two years of extensive rehabilitation, Travis could finally walk, shower, and dress himself without assistance. 

However, at that point, he still hadn't regained the use of the limbs on the right side of his body, but he could use his left hand to make chords on a guitar neck. Travis described his overall state as "damaged." The stroke also removed of Travis of his iconic singing voice. However, during his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, three years after his stroke, Travis sang again, turning in a rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Randy Travis never had kids, and he regrets it

While it's not as tragic as the loss of life or limb, there's something undeniably sad about people who want to be parents but, for whatever reason, don't wind up having kids. Randy Travis, for example, apparently has a real knack with the little ones. "Children are very special to Randy," Travis' wife, Mary, told Taste of Country. "If a fan had a crying baby, he would take that crying baby, put it on his lap. Maybe it was just that honey voice of his that the baby would look at him and be quiet." 

And while Travis has achieved a lot in his life, he was never a biological father, and it's something he regrets. "He wanted children," Mary Travis explained. "I think his relationship with Lib, who was so much older than him, and they were not able to, is what he explained to me." Lib is Lib Hatcher, Travis' first wife and manager, and she's 16 years older than the singer. By the time they were a couple, Hatcher was on the tail end of her "child-bearing years." When that relationship ended and Travis moved on to his second marriage, it was similarly too late in the game for kids.

The weird story behind his first marriage

According to People, Travis, still going by Randy Traywick, met Lib Hatcher in 1977. He was 17 at the time, and she was 33, and they met when he came to play in a weekly talent contest at the Charlotte club she owned. At the time, Travis, still in his small-time criminal phase, was about to earn a five-year prison sentence for breaking into a store, until Hatcher convinced the judge to release Travis into her custody. The singer went to live with Hatcher ... and her husband. 

She then became Travis' manager, which led to friction in the marriage. Given the ultimatum to choose between the marriage or managing young Randy Travis, she chose the latter. Around 1982, when the pair moved to Nashville, the arrangement turned romantic. They married in secret in 1991 and finally revealed the true nature of their relationship. The marriage fizzled out in October 2010, when, according to the Associated Press (via The Boot), Travis filed for divorce on the grounds of "a state of incompatibility." Despite their love not making it for the long haul, Travis and Hatcher decided to continue their business arrangement, but that wouldn't last either.

Financial problems for Randy Travis

According to TMZ, in 2011, Randy Travis fired Lib Hatcher from her job as his manager. In April 2012, per the Nashville Business Journal, Hatcher sued Travis for breach of contract of their post-divorce management agreement. Travis then filed a countersuit, which according to The Daily Freeman, accused Hatcher of publicly revealing confidential information so as to intentionally cause harm to the singer's career and reputation. So yeah, there was a whole lot of drama going on.

While lawyers battled for Travis and Hatcher, the singer experienced a slew of health and personal problems, including a severe stroke in 2013. While hospitalized, as Travis recalled in his memoir Forever and Ever, Amen, he realized he wouldn't be able to tour for a while. Fortunately, he believed he'd insured his voice with Lloyd's of London, but some digging revealed that he didn't have any such coverage for disability or concert cancellation ... even though he'd paid out around $250,000 annually in premiums. Travis called this discovery a "financial oversight — or perhaps willful disregard or mishandling of my fiduciary affairs." In an interview with Taste of Country in 2019, Travis called his financial situation "dire," with his memoir co-author Ken Abraham adding, "Hopefully the book will help."