There are some stories in country music that are almost so touching, and so crazy, they almost ask the audience to suspend disbelief. If they were spun into fiction, they would be laughed off as too extraordinary. But time after time, country music has given us these stories, and it’s helped keep the mystique of the music and artists of the past alive well beyond their shelf life in popular culture.
One of those stories, if not one of the best of them, was how fate allowed Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty to reunite once again for his final moments in life.
Conway Twitty died on June 5th, 1993—30 years ago today. He’d been performing in Branson, Missouri and was on his bus headed back to Nashville for the annual Fan Fair that happens the first week of June (now called CMA Fest). While on the bus, Conway collapsed unexpectedly. He was suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
No true country music fan needs to be told just how legendary the pairing of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn was. They were arguably the greatest country duet partners of all time. Together they racked up twelve Top 10 hits including five #1’s. They also recorded four #1 albums. Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty also earned four consecutive CMA Duo of the Year Awards between 1972 and 1975.
Apart, they seemed like polar opposites. Conway Twitty was the suave ladies man always getting his way, and Loretta Lynn was the confident woman always putting men in their place. On paper, it was an odd pairing. But on the stage and in the studio, it worked perfectly, and was the ideal compliment to their legendary careers without getting in the way.
One of the reasons the duo worked so well is Loretta’s famous husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn loved Conway Twitty, and Conway Twitty’s third wife Delores “Dee” Henry adored Loretta Lynn, and so did Conway’s 2nd wife Temple “Mickey” Medley who Twitty was married to between 1956 to 1984. The relationship between Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn was always and solely professional. But one of the reasons the duets worked so well is because they also loved each other deep down.
The Conway and Loretta show had mostly wrapped up after ten years in 1981, aside from a single in 1988 called “Making Believe.” Their respective solo careers were just too much to handle on their own. They still remained good friends though, and performed together upon occasion.
But it wasn’t a reunion show or a planned meeting that brought Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn together again on the day that Conway Twitty died. It was pure fate. As Conway laid in agony on his tour bus, his driver took him to Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri for help. Completely by chance, when Conway Twitty arrived, Loretta Lynn already at the same hospital tending to her husband Doolittle who was suffering from complications with diabetes, and was gravely ill himself.
“When they brought Conway in I couldn’t believe it,” Lynn told Ralph Emery in an interview some years later. “I just could not believe it. It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through really. I stayed with Dee (Conway’s wife) and I stayed with the band for a while, and then I’d run up to see Doo, and then I’d run back to sit with Dee. And then I’d run back to see how Doo was, because he was in real bad shape. They thought he was going to die any time. I was in bad shape myself.”
Here was Loretta Lynn in a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, running up and down the halls tending to two of the most important men in her life, both of whom were fighting for theirs.
“After so long, here comes the chaplain,” Loretta continues. “‘Do you want to see Conway?’ I said, ‘Why, what’s wrong?’ he said, ‘Do you want to see him? You’re gonna see him for the last time alive.’ I said,’ Let me take Dee.’ I grabbed Dee by the hand and said, ‘Let’s go see Conway.’ I told Conway I said, ‘Conway, don’t you die on me. You know you love to sing. You’re gonna be alright.’ Dee talked to him and said, ‘Conway, you’ve pulled through harder things than this.'”
Then Loretta Lynn left again to see Doolittle, and right as she entered Doolittle’s room, “They come up behind me and said ‘Conway died,'” Loretta recalls. Conway Twitty was only 59 years old.
If the story had transpired in Nashville, it may have not have been so unbelievable that both Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty would have been in the same hospital in his final moments, or that friends like Loretta may have been called to Conway’s side when the worst was feared. But this was in Springfield, Missouri, and completely by chance that Loretta Lynn was there.
And that’s why country music is more than just songs, artists, and albums. It’s the stories, the friendships, the love and the heartbreak that color the moments in between that make it more than just “music.”