How Hank Williams Jr. Survived 530-Foot Fall Off Montana Mountain Peak

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In 1975, Hank Williams Jr. nearly lost his life in a tragic accident when he fell 530-foot off of a Montana mountain.

Hank Williams Jr.’s life has been wrought with heartache. From the untimely death of his famous father, a near-death fall and drug and alcohol abuse to the tragic loss of his wife and daughter, Hank Williams Jr.’s story would break a lesser man. But, the country star is instead counting his blessings.

Born in 1975 to legendary Opry star Hank Williams and his wife Audrey, Hank Williams Jr. was destined for the spotlight, whether he liked it or not. After his father’s death when young Hank was only 4-years-old, the world watched him grow up surrounded by the likes of Johnny and June Carter Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Earl Scruggs, to name a few.

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Throughout young adulthood, Hank Jr., nicknamed Bocephus by his father, followed in his dad’s footsteps, even earning a decent living impersonating the late legend. Eventually, Hank struck out to make a name for himself, and a years of drug and alcohol abuse followed. But, a near-fatal accident would change Hank Jr.’s life forever.

Hank Williams Jr.’s Near-Fatal Fall

On August 8, 1975, just weeks after he finished recording what would become his breakthrough album, Hank Jr. decided to hike Ajax Peak in western Montana with local rancher, Dick Willey, and Willey’s 11-year-old son Walt. While navigating the rugged and snowy terrain at roughly 9,000 feet, Williams slipped on a snow field. The then-26-year-old Williams plummeted more than 500 feet, hitting jutting rocks along the way.

Dick and Walt Willey made their way to Williams, who was lying motionless and bleeding. They were surprised to find him alive and conscious, but knew he had suffered severe injuries. When the Willey’s reached Hank, they saw that his head had been fractured, exposing part of his brain, his nose has nearly been torn from his face, and one of his eyes had been detached from the socket….and these were only the injuries that were visible.

Dick ordered his son to stay with Hank while he went for help. For roughly three hours, young Walt talked to Hank nonstop to keep him awake as Dick made his way to a ranger station to call for help.

It took six hours, six men and a helicopter to transport Hank to the hospital in Missoula, Montana, where he underwent more than seven hours of surgery as doctors frantically worked to save his life. Hank’s outlook was bleak and doctors didn’t expect him to survive.

When Hank Williams Jr. woke up following his surgeries, his godmother, June Carter Cash, and the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash, were there.

“When I fell, there were only two people I saw when I woke up in the hospital bed, and that was Johnny and June,” Williams told Rolling Stone in 2015. “June put a cross on me and told me it was all going to be OK.”

It was nine days before Hank was willing to look at himself in the mirror. He later said that his head had swollen to the size of a watermelon and his face and jaws were wired and sewn together.

“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad,” Hank said.

Two week after the fall, he was moved out of ICU and into a private room where he stayed until August 25 when he was released from the hospital.

“I’ve had dreams about it,” Williams said in a 1989 interview. “I should have died. The doctor said he had worked on plenty of boys in Vietnam and, to be frank, they looked good compared to me.”

RELATED: HANK WILLIAMS JR. PERFORMS “A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE” LIVE IN 1983

Over the next two years, Hank underwent nine more surgeries to repair his face and skull with skin grafts, metal plates, and screws. He was told he would likely never talk again, let alone sing. But, the singer proved everyone wrong. Not only could he talk and sing, but two years after the tragic accident he released two albums, One Night Stand and The New South.

Hank Jr. also took on a new look. The previously clean-shaven and babyfaced singer grew a beard and wore dark sunglasses to hide scars that the accident left behind. The look became his signature as it lent itself perfectly to his own distinct rebel country sound.

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The Aftermath of Hank Williams Jr.’s Accident

Among the rejoicing and thankfulness that he survived such a tragic accident, the “All My Rowdy Friends” singer suffered the heartache of the death of his mother. Despite the two being estranged since Hank was 18, Audrey Williams had flown to Missoula, Montana, from Nashville to be with her son.

“It’s just a miracle the boy is living, but he’s young and he’s tough,” she told The Tennessean at the time. “It was just God’s will for him to live.”

Less than three months later, Audrey Williams died at the age of 52. According to the Tennessean, the first wife of Hank Williams Sr. had been through some financial hardships that caused her home to be seized, and the weight of her son’s accident added to her struggles. A member of her personal staff reportedly told The Tennessean that “she’d been depressed ever since Hank Jr. got hurt. I think that’s what really did it.”

 

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Hank Williams Jr. would go on to become one of the greatest country singers of all time, making a name for himself with songs that were “bold, boisterous, defiant, outspoken, and often intensely biographical.” His impressive resume credits include:

-Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year (1987 and 1988)
-Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year (1987, 1988, and 1989)
-Grammy Award – Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (1989)
-Emmy Award for Composed Theme – Monday Night Football Theme Song – (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994)
-Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (2007)
-Country Music Hall of Fame (2020)

Hank Williams Jr. Reunited with Dick and Walt Willey

In 2007, CMT Honored Hank Williams Jr. with a tribute concert called CMT Giants. As part of the televised program, Martina McBride shared about Hank’s Montana accident before welcoming Dick and Walt Willey, the father and son duo that saved the singer’s life, to the stage.

The Willey’s appearance on stage earned a standing ovation from the crowd. The father and son recounted their side of the story, with Walt sharing that he still has a note that Hank gave him a note two days after the accident that read, “Walt, Thanks for saving me. Hank Williams Jr.”

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How Hank Williams Jr.’s Accident Changed His Life

In a 2022 interview with Bobby Bones, Hank Jr. was asked what he remembers about the terrifying fall.”All of it…I remember every bit of it,” Bocephus said, adding that doctors credit his survival with the fact that he didn’t black out.

“They strapped me to the outside of a helicopter…that ride was pretty rough,” Williams recalled. “Then you get down there and they cut everything off. I told them, ‘Don’t cut my cross [necklace] off.’ They cut everything off. I had a gun in a shoulder holster when I fell. They cut the holster off….Operated all night. I woke up a day and a half later, something like that.”

Bobby Bones then asked when he was able to sing again. “It was a long time after that…it was starting all over.”

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In an undated interview with Lorianne Crook, Williams spoke about how the accident changed his life.

“I didn’t know if I’d see again or if I could talk…If I could walk out on stage or look at a girl or an audience or anything anymore” Hank recalled. “It makes you appreciate life and it makes a lot of the trivial things go way down on the list.”

Hear Hank Williams Jr. talk about his life-changing accident in the clip below.

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