“With great sadness and grief we announce that Hal passed away peacefully last night at home due to complications of Dementia,” his wife, Andrea, wrote on Ketchum’s Facebook page. “May his music live on forever in your hearts and bring you peace.”
Among those weighing in with appreciation and sorrow were Toby Keith, Rodney Crowell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Chely Wright and LeAnn Rimes. Keith shared a video of himself covering Ketchum’s “Past the Point of Rescue” that he had just posted in May.
“He had that beautiful voice and an Irish poet’s soul. Whenever he managed to connect the two, people would fall in love all around him,” Crowell said in a video message posted on social media.
— Rodney Crowell (@RodneyJCrowell) November 24, 2020
In 1991, Ketchum hit his commercial stride with his very first single, “Small Town Saturday Night,” which peaked at No. 2 and became a signature song. The now-defunct trade publication Radio & Records named it the No. 1 country song of the year. His major-label debut album, “Past the Point of Rescue,” was certified gold.
Other hits included “Past the Point of Rescue,” “Sure Love,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll,” “Mama Knows the Highway” and “Stay Forever.”
In February, Texas’ famed Gruene Hall had hosted a livestreamed tribute show in Ketchum’s honor that served as a fundraiser for his health care, with an illustrious guest list that included Lone Star stalwarts like Randy Rogers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Waylon Payne, Lee Roy Parnell, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. “To all the musicians,” Andrea Ketchum posted afterward, “you took time out of your busy schedules to play Hal’s songs in tribute and as he watched the show he kept saying, ‘Wow, those are my friends!'”
His wife first shared details of his condition in April 2019. “I know everyone is wondering why there are no future tour dates, and speculations as to the reason,” Andrea wrote. “Our family would like to share the cause for this. Unfortunately, Hal is suffering from Alzheimer’s/dementia. He has been battling this for some time now, but because of his love for his fans, he continued performing as long as it was possible. Dementia is an exhausting and confusing illness, and now it’s time for Hal to stay home with loved ones. Hal is otherwise healthy and happy, enjoying time with his family and friends.”
Ketchum was invited to become an Opry member in 1994.
New York-reared, but with a love for traditional singers like Buck Owens and Marty Robbins, Ketchum moved to Texas in 1981, and began releasing music independently in 1986. According to his Grand Ole Opry page, he spent nearly 20 years doing carpentry and furniture building before music took off for him.
RIP Hal Ketchumhttps://t.co/Fz1zTN0ngA
— Toby Keith (@tobykeith) November 25, 2020
Chely Wright told a story about Ketchum’s generosity on her Instagram page.
“You know who was a great songwriter? Hal Ketchum. You know who made a bunch of great records? Hal Ketchum.
You know who was one of the most sincere and generous people I’ve ever met? Hal Ketchum,” she wrote.
“One of my favorite memories of Hal happened when he and I were on the road together for a run of shows in the mid-’90s,” Wright continued. “It was July and it was hot. Like, the kind of hot that makes everything difficult. The kind of hot that causes the AC on your tour bus to stop working two shows into the run. Both of our buses pulled into the hotel and our tour managers each went into the lobby to check in their respective bands. It seemed to take forever. My tour manager finally walked back on our bus and told me that there’d been some sort of snafu and that our rooms wouldn’t be ready for hours. I didn’t have hours to wait, as I had a radio visit to do, then soundcheck and then pre-show meet n greets and then the show. Hal’s band and crew had been able to check in without complication, but there weren’t enough rooms for us. My tour manager and I went back into the hotel to see if maybe there was a hotel gym shower that I might be able to use. No such luck. We got back on the bus— with no AC and tried to figure out what to do. My tour manager was frantically calling around town to see if he could scrounge up just one hotel room. Again, no luck.
“Right when it seemed that all hope was lost, there was a loud knock on the door of my bus. Hal bound up the stairs and into the front lounge as if he’d floated. He had that giant smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. In a somewhat bellowing voice, he said, ‘I hear there’s a damsel in distress on this tour bus— which is, by the way, hotter than hell!’ I replied, ‘You heard right.’
“Hal had been told that there was a problem with our rooms, so he came to give me his room. ‘Take it, girl. It’s all yours. I’ll find another place to grab a shower.’ By the way, Hal was a big star at the time and I was not even a tiny star. He was generous and tender too. Hal Ketchum was one in a million,” Wright concluded. “Rest In Peace, old friend.”