Known for his contributions to country music, Jackie Keith Whitley (July 1, 1954 – May 9, 1989) was an American singer and songwriter. Only two albums of Whitley’s were released during his lifetime, yet he managed to have 12 songs appear on the Billboard country charts.
The Beginnings of his Early Life
Whitley was born in Ashland, Kentucky to Faye Ferguson (the editor of The Elliott County News) and Elmer Whitley (an electrician), although he was reared and educated in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, 46 miles to the southwest.
His sibling roster included Mary, his sister, and brothers Randy and Dwight. Inhabitants of the Elliott County region since the 1840s, the Whitleys trace their heritage to the United Kingdom and Scotland, respectively.
When Whitley was a young man living in Sandy Hook, he and his pals enjoyed nothing more than imbibing in illegal bourbon and racing their automobiles at high speeds down treacherous mountain roads.
When Whitley was a passenger, the driver tried to take a turn at a speed of 120 miles per hour (190 kilometers per hour). His companion perished in the collision, and Whitley narrowly avoided a similar fate when his car flipped. He once drove his automobile off a cliff and into a freezing river, suffering just a fractured collar bone.
How did, He Die?
On May 9th, 1989, Whitley spoke with his mother for a short time on the phone and then was visited by his brother-in-law, Lane Palmer.
After coffee and lunch, Whitley and Lorrie Morgan discussed their plans for the rest of the day, which included golf and the creation of songs to be recorded upon Lorrie Morgan’s return from her concert tour.
Important Points Related to His Death
- Palmer departed about 8:30 a.m., and he told Whitley to get ready to go in about the same amount of time. As soon as Palmer got home, he saw Whitley lying still in bed, so he dialed 911. At the hospital, Whitley’s lifeless body was pronounced to be that of a 34-year-old man.
- Death was ruled an accidental overdose of alcohol (alcohol poisoning). Charles Harlan, the Davidson County medical examiner, said that Whitley’s BAC was 0.47. (the equivalent of 20 one-ounce shots of 100-proof whiskey). His birth certificate and passport both show that he was born in 1954, however, RCA and his tombstone incorrectly list the year as 1955.
- The day after Whitley’s death, black ribbons were strung along Music Row as a tribute to him. The Spring Hill Cemetery in Davidson County, Tennessee, is where his remains rest. One of the inscriptions on his tombstone reads, “Forever yours lovingly,” while the other says, “His being was my reason” (part two). Both Whitley and Morgan will be buried there in the future; “yours” refers to Whitley and “mine” refers to Morgan.