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Country Star Keith Whitley Dead at 33 From Alcohol Overdose

May 10, 1989 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Country music singer Keith Whitley, known for wrenching, honky-tonk-style ballads that embraced pain and joy, was found dead at his home Tuesday after overdosing on alcohol, officials said. He was 33.

Whitley was found fully clothed in his bed by his brother-in-law, Lane Palmer, said Lt. Harry Bell of the Goodletsville Police Department just north of Nashville.

An autopsy showed the singer died of an accidental overdose of alcohol, said Medical Examiner Charles Harlan. The singer’s blood alcohol content was .477, almost five times the amount to be declared intoxicated in Tennessee, Harlan said.

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Cocaine and Valium were also in Whitley’s system, according to autopsy results released later.

The drugs may have contributed to the singer’s death, Harlan said, but the cause was drinking too much alcohol in too short a time.

The Sandy Hook, Ky., native’s alcohol problem had plagued him for years. In an interview last October, he said his heavy drinking had nearly killed him and that he had quit in 1987.

″It was a matter of life and death,″ Whitley said. ″If I hadn’t stopped drinking, I don’t think I’d be alive today. I did so many crazy things while drinking.″

Whitley had just recorded an album in Nashville, to be released in the fall, said Brenna Davenport-Leigh, spokeswoman for his record label, RCA Records. ″Keith was very active on the road. He’s been touring,″ she said. Whitley’s latest album, ″Don’t Close Your Eyes,″ has had three No. 1 singles since it was released last year, including last month’s ″I’m No Stranger to the Rain.″

The title song was nominated by the Academy of Country Music for song and single record of the year. His other hit records included ″Miami My Amy,″ ″Ten Feet Away,″ ″Homecoming ’63″ and ″Hard Livin’.″

As a teen-ager, he played in Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass band and later was lead singer for the country-bluegrass band J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Whitley survived his reckless teen-age years and battled his stubborn drinking problem to become one of country music’s emerging stars, along with Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam.

He moved to Nashville from Kentucky in the mid-1980s and landed a recording contract with RCA.

″There will always be a special place in my heart for Keith Whitley, and I’m sorry people will be deprived of his great talent,″ said his manager, Jack McFadden.

″Keith was the type of individual you’d like to live next door to and like to go fishing with every Saturday,″ McFadden said.

Whitley’s wife, Lorrie Morgan, a Grand Ole Opry singer, was on a tour heading toward Alaska when her husband died.

Besides his wife, Whitley is survived by a son and a daughter.