He also was a classic hard case, a womanizer and substance abuser who died of drug-related causes in his automobile on the way to a gig on New Year’s Eve, 1952.
While TNN’s “Hank Williams” doesn’t ignore his personal problems, it glosses over them, blaming his trouble on a congenital spinal problem and the fascinating Dr. Toby Marshall, a medic with a mail-order degree who “cured” alcoholism with morphine, chloral hydrate and phenobarbital.
If the de-emphasis of Williams’ personal failures were to make more room for the music, it could be a reasonable assignment of priorities; unfortunately, precious little of Williams’ music is actually heard. There’s some discussion of the behind-the-scenes role of songwriter-publisher Fred Rose — who some say “created” Williams as a writer, editing or possibly ghosting his songs — but not enough to soil Williams’ image in that respect.
It’s noted that Williams’ second marriage was performed three times, once privately and twice in front of paying audiences. That’s something present-day celebrities might keep in mind, instead of hiring security to keep tabloids at bay.
Best insight comes from musicians Jerry Rivers, Don Helms and especially Neal McCormick, who all worked with Williams at various stages in his career, and from Williams’ contemporary Little Jimmy Dickens. Compared with their first-hand recollections, the after-the-fact testimony of even Waylon Jennings and Marty Stuart (both literate and historically minded country singers) rings relatively hollow.
Entire project is reminiscent of a Shel Silverstein lyric, “Nashville is rough on the living, but speaks mighty well of the dead.”