AKA Virginia Wynette Pugh
Birthplace: Itawamba County, MS
Location of death: Nashville, TN
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville, TN
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Country Musician
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Stand By Your Man
The daughter of farmer/part-time musician William Pugh and his wife Mildred Russell, Virginia Wynette Pugh was born on a cotton farm in Itawamba County, Mississippi where she was quickly introduced to the harsh lifestyle of the cotton fields. Before his daughter's first birthday William died of a brain tumor, forcing Mildred to relocate to Birmingham, Alabama in order to find work at one of the factories producing airplanes for the Second World War; Wynette (or "Nettie", as she was usually called at the time) was left on the farm in the care of her grandparents, where she was put to work picking cotton by the age of 7. Throughout her pre-teen years, music -- whether gospel singing with her grandmother or the piano and guitar left behind by her father -- would provide young Nettie's only escape from the relentless tedium of her life.
During high school Wynette developed an interest in basketball, but singing and country music continued to be her primary passion. At the age of seventeen, just prior to graduating from high school, she married her first husband Euple Byrd, with whom she would have three children before their divorce in 1966. Byrd's irregular employment made it difficult for the family to stay in one place for very long, and eventually landed them in a run-down log cabin that lacked any modern conveniences. During this period it usually fell to Wynette to provide an steady income by taking whatever blue-collar jobs she could find, ranging from waitressing to factory work. In 1963 she enrolled in a Tupelo beauty school and began work as a hairdresser, but soon afterwards she launched a parallel career as a nightclub singer in order to cover the medical bills of her third daughter Tina, who had become afflicted with spinal meningitis.
In 1965 Wynette's singing career received a moderate boost when she was given a regular spot on WBRC-TV's Country Boy Eddie Show, which would in turn lead to several appearances on Porter Wagoner's syndicated TV series. Her first marriage already over, Wynette then moved with her three daughters to Nashville in order to more effectively pursue a recording contract. After enduring several months of rejections, an audition for producer Billy Sherrill resulted in a contract with Epic Records in 1966; it was Sherrill who would concoct the stage name Tammy Wynette, the "Tammy" apparently inspired by Debbie Reynolds' character in the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor. Her debut single -- a Johnny Paycheck-penned tune titled Apartment #9 -- arrived near the end of 1966, providing the singer with her first country hit by early 1967. This was surpassed by her next release Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad, which found its way up to the number three slot later that same year.
In the summer of '67 Wynette's earned her first number #1 hit with her third single My Elusive Dreams. This level of success continued through the remainder of the 1960s, including three more number ones in 1968 (Take Me to Your World, D-I-V-O-R-C-E (a song also recorded by Dolly Parton) and Stand by Your Man) and two more in 1969 (Singing My Song and The Ways to Love a Man). After a brief marriage to country singer Don Chapel in 1967, Wynette entered into a heavily-publicized relationship with one of her music idols, George Jones, in 1968; Jones became her third husband later that same year, and during the seven years that their marriage endured the pair kept an active presence in both the charts and the tabloids. The first of the Wynette/Jones duets Take Me (1971) placed them in the top 10, while the subsequent single We're Gonna Hold On climbed up to the #1 spot in 1973. Jones' severe alcoholism ultimately led Tammy to divorce him in 1975, but their musical collaboration continued for years afterward, producing popular singles such as Golden Ring (another #1, 1976), Southern California (1977) and Two Story House (1980).
Wynette's solo career remained strong throughout the 1970s, maintained by a regular output of #1 singles -- He Loves Me All the Way (1970), Run, Woman Run (1970), Good Lovin' (Makes It Right) (1971), Bedtime Story (1972), My Man (1972), Til' I Get It Right (1973), Kids Say the Darndest Things (1973), Another Lonely Song (1974), Til' I Can Make It On My Own (1976), You and Me (1976), and Near You (1977) -- as well as numerous entries into the top 10. She would marry twice more during the decade: first to real estate exec Michael Tomlin (a union which lasted for a mere 6 weeks) and then two years later to singer/songwriter George Richardson, who was known professionally as George Richey. This fifth marriage would endure for the remainder of her life, with Richardson assuming management duties for his wife's career.
In one of the most bizarre episodes of the singer's tumultuous life, not long after her fifth wedding Wynette was allegedly abducted from a Nashville mall and severely beaten. According to her subsequent report, a masked man was waiting in her car when she returned from shopping; after overpowering her, the man bound her hands and drove the car to an isolated stretch of road 80 miles out of town. This masked assailant then attempted to strangle her before forcing her out of the car and leaving by the roadside. No suspects were ever identified, and it was later suggested in Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death, a book written in 2000 by Wynette's daughter Jackie, that the abduction had merely been a story concocted in an attempt to conceal a severe beating that had in fact been administered by Richardson.
In the 1980's Tammy Wynette's popularity experienced an inevitable decline, although the singer managed to make occasional appearances in the top 20 with singles such as Another Chance (1982), A Good Night's Love (1983), Talkin' To Myself Again (1987) and Your Love (1987), and her albums still usually placed in the top 50. Health problems that had emerged during the 1970s began to create a more serious obstacle to her ability to perform, while also further complicating her life by instigating an addiction to the pain medication Demerol. This addiction eventually became severe enough to warrant admission into the Betty Ford clinic in 1986. On top of these other difficulties, Wynette was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1988 as a result of an ill-fated investment in two Florida shopping malls. The decade was not entirely without it's positive elements, however, and between 1986 and 1987 she landed an recurring acting role on the network soap opera Capitol; the 80s albums Sometimes When We Touch (1985), Higher Ground (1987) and Next to You, while not quite rivaling the success of her earlier output, also demonstrated that her audience had far from deserted her.
The early 90s saw Wynette once again returning to the top of the charts -- although this time it was through the dance charts rather than the country charts. Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs), a collaboration with the British electronic duo The KLF, found its way to the number one position in over a dozen different countries in 1992, both the song and its promotional video serving to introduce the singer to a new generation of listeners. Her "comeback" continued the following year with the album Honky Tonk Angels, a project also featuring fellow country veterans Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Wynette's solo output resumed in 1994, the album Without Walls enlisting a diverse roster of guest performers that included Sting, Elton John, Aaron Neville, Lyle Lovett and Smokey Robinson.
Following the completion of Without Walls Wynette's health suffered a significant decline, culminating in a coma that lasted nearly a week. She managed to recover sufficiently by 1995 to continue her musical activities, at which time she resumed her old partnership with George Jones for the album One and a series of live performances that continued into 1997. The decades of illness, surgery and medications ultimately took their toll, and on April 6th 1998 Tammy Wynette died from heart failure instigated by a blood clot. Her memorial service was given a worldwide broadcast three days later and included tribute performances by Lorrie Morgan, Wynonna Judd, Randy Travis and The Oakridge Boys.
In 2012, fourteen years after her death, Wynette's tombstone was altered at the request of some members of her family, infuriating other family members. Apparently on order of Wynette's stepdaughter with Richardson, Deirdre Richardson-Hale, the name "Tammy Wynette" was removed from her Nashville tomb, and replaced with Wynette's last legal married name, Virginia W Richardson.
Father: William Hollis Pugh (farmer/musician, d. 13-Feb-1943, brain tumor)
Mother: Mildred Faye Russell (farmer/factory worker, d. 1991)
Husband: Euple Byrd (construction worker, m. 1959, div. 1965)
Daughter: Jacquelyn Paule Daly
Husband: Don Chapel (country musician, m. 1967, div. 1968)
Husband: George Jones (country musician, m. 1969, div. 1975, one daughter)
Daughter: Tamala Georgette Jones-Lennon
Boyfriend: Burt Reynolds
Boyfriend: Rudy Gatlin
Husband: Michael Tomlin (real estate executive, m. 1976 six weeks, div. 1976)
Husband: George Richardson (songwriter/manager, p/k/a George Richey, m. 1978)
Daughter: Deirdre Richardson-Hale (attorney, stepdaughter)
High School: Tremont High School, Tremont, MS (1959)
Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette 1993
Grammy Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance, Female for I Don't Wanna Play House (1967)
Grammy Best Country Vocal Performance, Female for Stand By Your Man (1969)
Grammy Hall of Fame Award for Stand By Your Man (1999)
Country Music Hall of Fame 1998
Endorsement of MCI 1991
Betty Ford Center painkillers (1986)
Kidnapped (alleged) 1978
Bankruptcy $900,000 in back taxes (1988)
Cholecystectomy St. Thomas Hospital, Nashville, TN (Aug-1976)
Hernia Operation Underwood Memorial Hospital, Woodbury, NJ (Sep-1979)
Risk Factors: Appendicitis
Author of books:
The Tammy Wynette Southern Cookbook (1990, cookbook)
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