Hiram "Hank" Williams (; September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century, Williams recorded 35 singles (five released posthumously) that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked number one (three posthumously).
Born in Mount Olive, Butler County, Alabama, Williams relocated to Georgiana with his family, where he met Rufus Payne, who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for meals or money. Payne had a major influence on Williams' later musical style, along with Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. He would later relocate to Montgomery, where he began his music career in 1937, when producers at radio station WSFA hired him to perform and host a 15-minute program. He formed the Drifting Cowboys backup band, which was managed by his mother, and dropped out of school to devote his time to his career.
When several of his band members were conscripted into military service during World War II, Williams had trouble with their replacements, and WSFA terminated his contract because of his alcohol abuse. Williams eventually married Audrey Sheppard, who was his manager for nearly a decade. After recording "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" with Sterling Records, he signed a contract with MGM Records. In 1947 he released "Move It on Over", which became a hit, and also joined the Louisiana Hayride radio program. One year later, he released a cover of "Lovesick Blues" recorded at Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, which carried him into the mainstream of music. After an initial rejection, Williams joined the Grand Ole Opry. He was unable to read or notate music to any significant degree. Among the hits he wrote were "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Hey, Good Lookin'", and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".
In 1952, he divorced Sheppard and was dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry because of his unreliability and alcohol abuse. On January 1, 1953, he suffered heart failure while traveling to perform at a concert in West Virginia, and died as a result. His death came in the wake of many years of back pain, alcoholism and prescription drug abuse which led to his health deterioration and eventual death. Despite his short life, Williams is one of the most celebrated and influential musicians of the 20th century, especially in regard to country music. The songs he wrote and recorded have been covered by numerous artists and have been hits in various genres, and he has been cited as a key musical influence on Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. He has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987).
Williams was scheduled to perform at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston, West Virginia on Wednesday December 31, 1952. Advance ticket sales totaled US$3,500. That day, because of an ice storm in the Nashville area, Williams could not fly, so he hired a college student, Charles Carr, to drive him to the concerts. Carr called the Charleston auditorium from Knoxville to say that Williams would not arrive on time owing to the ice storm and was ordered to drive Williams to Canton, Ohio, for the New Year's Day concert there.
They arrived at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Carr requested a doctor for Williams, as he was feeling the combination of the chloral hydrate and alcohol he had drunk on the way from Montgomery to Knoxville. Dr. P.H. Cardwell injected Williams with two shots of vitamin B12 that also contained a quarter-grain of morphine. Carr and Williams checked out of the hotel; the porters had to carry Williams to the car, as he was coughing and hiccuping. At around midnight on Thursday January 1, 1953, when they crossed the Tennessee state line and arrived in Bristol, Virginia, Carr stopped at a small all-night restaurant and asked Williams if he wanted to eat. Williams said he did not, and those are believed to be his last words. Carr later drove on until he stopped for fuel at a gas station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, where he realized that Williams was dead. The filling station's owner called the chief of the local police. In Williams' Cadillac the police found some empty beer cans and unfinished handwritten lyrics.
Dr. Ivan Malinin performed the autopsy at the Tyree Funeral House. Malinin found hemorrhages in the heart and neck and pronounced the cause of death as "insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart". That evening, when the announcer at Canton announced Williams' death to the gathered crowd, they started laughing, thinking that it was just another excuse. After Hawkshaw Hawkins and other performers started singing "I Saw the Light" as a tribute to Williams, the crowd, now realizing that he was indeed dead, sang along. Dr. Malinin also wrote that Williams had been severely beaten and kicked in the groin recently. Also local magistrate Virgil F. Lyons ordered an inquest into Williams' death concerning the welt that was visible on his head.