Hank Williams Arrested: The Story Behind the Famous Photo
63 years ago, the famous photo of Hank Williams leaving a jail cell in Alexander City, Alabama was snapped.
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It was August of 1952, and the life of Hank Williams was in a downward spiral. The Hillbilly Shakespeare already suffered from chronic back pain which helped lead to his notorious alcoholism, and then earlier in 1952, Hank suffered a fall during a hunting trip in Tennessee, facilitating his use of painkillers such as morphine. On August 11th, 1952, Hank’s alcoholism and drug use resulted in the singer and songwriter being fired from the Grand Ole Opry, which devastated him and only exacerbated his personal issues.
On August 17th, 1952, six days after being fired from the Opry, Hank Williams was back in his home state of Alabama in a town called Alexander City, also known as “Alex City” by locals. Williams frequently visited the area, especially Lake Martin which borders the town to the south and east, and where Hank owned a lakeside cabin. Hank Williams sometimes conducted interviews with local Alexander City DJ Bob McKinnon when he was in town. One of the communities surrounding the lake was known as Kowliga, which inspired the Hank Williams hit “Kaw-Liga.” The name is derived from a legendary Indian from the area, and a wooden statue commemorating Kaw-Liga (or Kowliga) that was located near the lake.
It was during the same trip to Alexander City and Lake Martin in 1952 that some reports say Hank would write the song “Kaw-Liga.” He recording the hit on September 23, 1952 at the Castle Studio in Nashville with a B-side of “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Other reports say he wrote the song in 1951 because of a demo version that is attributed to a year before. But either way, Hank would not live to see the song’s release. His life would continue its tragic, downward spiral, illustrated by the events of August 17th.
At 11:25 p.m., Hank Williams was arrested in Alexander City at the Russell Hotel for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Chief Winfred Patterson who arrested Hank said to the Alabama Journal in 1971 that Hank was “more or less having DT’s (delirium tremens). He was running up and down the hall, yelling that someone was whipping old ladies and he was going to stop them.”
According to reports, Hank’s friend Darwin Dobbs, who had hosted Hank at his Lake Martin fishing lodge, posted Hank’s $25 bond, and paid the $10 fine for Hank to be released. As the singer was exiting the jail, the famous picture of a shirtless, gaunt, and unshaved Hank Williams was snapped.
Shortly thereafter, Hank arrived at his mother’s house in Montgomery, and later ended up spending time in the St. Jude’s Hospital trying to regain control of his life. According to biographer Colin Escott, the stay “must have helped Hank a little,” because he made an appearance on the Louisiana Hayride on September 20th, 1952, and recorded “Kaw-Liga” and other songs three days later. But Hank’s deterioration would continue until his tragic death on New Years Day, 1953.
The picture of Hank leaving the jail cell, and the original police report discovered last year in the basement of the city jail, hangs in the office of Deputy Chief Jay Turner of the Alexander City police department as a reminder of the famous moment in the life of Hank Williams.
“Kaw-Liga” was released posthumously in January of 1953, and spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard country chart. It was arguably Hank’s biggest commercial hit.
August 17, 2015 @ 1:23 pm
I always wondered about that photo. He looks terrible, you can tell his alcoholism was in full force. Betcha Tom Hiddleston can’t pull off that physique.
August 17, 2015 @ 2:56 pm
There were reports of him on a strict diet and running in garbage bags up to the shooting.
John Wayne Twitty
August 17, 2015 @ 6:42 pm
I always thought Christian Bale looked a whole lot like Hank. Bale, of all actors, could pull off the strung out Hank look. Look at his character in “The Machinist” for a great comparison.
February 1, 2020 @ 10:07 pm
This is false information.
August 17, 2015 @ 2:02 pm
Such a great man, who died way too young. What a shame.
August 17, 2015 @ 2:48 pm
Hank was about 6’0 tall and he could not have weighed more than 120 lbs. in that picture. It will be interesting to see if the movie will portray Hank as fucked up as he really was.
August 17, 2015 @ 2:52 pm
Finally was able to obtain a full-sized image of the police report. Just added it up above.
August 17, 2015 @ 3:15 pm
Didja clear it with family before posting it?
Didja clear it with his friends on Facebook?
Didja use a Ouija board and clear it with the man himself?
Just looking out for ya given some of your previous police report postings, Sir…
August 17, 2015 @ 3:45 pm
You, joke, but there’s actually some folks cheesed off on Facebook over this post right now. They think it’s because I mainly post about dead people and this story is old, but in truth they’re pissed off because people find it interesting and they are reading it on this site and sharing it.
We must keep talking about the country artists who’ve passed on to help keep their memories alive because I can guarantee the mainstream isn’t going to do it for us. Telling the tragic story of how Hank Williams passed away is the only way to learn from i. Too many have passed on too soon due to the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
August 17, 2015 @ 3:32 pm
HOW DARE YOU
August 17, 2015 @ 3:07 pm
Attention current “country” music douche bags this is the guy who built the genre of music you destroy on a daily basis.Evolution my ass.
August 17, 2015 @ 3:29 pm
Interesting story, though it certainly is sad given how it ended.
BTW, what happened to Clint? Has he been banned, or did he decide to leave after he was told to change his avatar?
Haven’t seen anything from Fuzzy TwoShirts lately either.
August 17, 2015 @ 3:50 pm
Clint was NOT banned. He is free to comment if he so chooses, but he has communicated to me that he will no longer read or comment on the site, which I frankly see as a tragedy. I politely asked him to change his avatar since it was becoming a constant political distraction, NOT because I was taking some side to the gay marriage issue. He decided he would rather stop interacting with the site as opposed to giving in to my request. Though he regularly disagreed with me and could be a pill in the comments, I saw the value in Clint’s perspective here, and it will be missed. I hope at some point he chooses to come back, just as you did Eric.
Fuzzy TwoShirts has commented since that happened I believe. We don’t need any more conspiracy theories about commenters.
August 17, 2015 @ 5:01 pm
After looking back through the threads, I realized that Fuzzy just commented on Thursday. My bad.
Sorry to hear about Clint. I often disagreed with him and sometimes did not like his conversational style, but he certainly made a worthy debate opponent and possessed a deep knowledge of country music history.
August 18, 2015 @ 6:42 am
Alright I got some sleep, now I can add some thoughts.
1: I think losing Clint, even though he probably liked me more than anybody else on SCM, is a good thing… I don’t believe ANY agenda should be alienating people from finding new music. I commend Trigger for making a decision in a situation in which “winning” was impossible.
2: Are there really “Fuzzy = Clint” conspiracies? I thought it was just one commenter….
August 18, 2015 @ 7:47 am
We haven’t interacted a whole lot, but I like you just fine. I also liked Clint for several reasons, not the least of which because he was an Arkansas boy. He was just a little too free with his words sometimes.
August 18, 2015 @ 8:33 am
Thanks Acca! but I meant that CLINT liked me more than HE liked anybody else on SCM, not that other commenters here disliked me.
August 18, 2015 @ 12:05 pm
Nah, no conspiracy. I was just playin’ 🙂
August 18, 2015 @ 7:59 pm
Sometimes I thought about changing either my name or avatar to pretend that I was Clint/Trigger/Jack Williams just to screw with people.
August 18, 2015 @ 10:45 pm
That might be hard with Trigger and Clint, since they both have their own avatars. It would be interesting to see the Fuzzy version of Jack Williams, though 😉
August 19, 2015 @ 6:29 am
I could always change my avatar, or just change my username and use the current one…
August 21, 2015 @ 7:01 am
off topic but…. I searched and searched and have dug around on this site, It may be staring me in the face but, How does one give themselves an avatar picture to begin with?
August 21, 2015 @ 8:30 am
If you and others want to add an Avatar beside your comments here and on many other website you can do that through https://en.gravatar.com/
August 21, 2015 @ 10:40 am
thanks Trig, don’t know how long it takes to filter in but there should be one coming…..
August 17, 2015 @ 9:00 pm
Hey guys I’m not dead!!!! I’ve just been busy, and I have been reading the articles, but I haven’t had much to say… I’ll admit to missing Clint. My Daniel Romano CD just arrived in the mail today, but I’m not going to stay up late and listen to it. Thanks for thinking about me though.
August 17, 2015 @ 4:26 pm
This may be heresy, but I’ve never understood the romanticism surrounding Hank Williams Sr, and I’ve been a country fan for years. I understand why his work was important and can appreciate that, but his appeal baffles me. Ironic, as I’m a big fan of folks like Waylon, but HW just never seemed to sit right with me, even though I know the backstory. I don’t imagine that I’m the only one that may have this perspective.
August 17, 2015 @ 4:42 pm
Hey it’s cool everyone doesnt have to like everything.I’m not a fan of Jason Isbell but I still appreciate what he does for music, even though it’s not my cup of tea.
August 17, 2015 @ 4:45 pm
Stupid auto correct made me misspell my own name.
Mike in Winston
August 17, 2015 @ 5:26 pm
That’s one of the funnier things, I have read on this wonderful forum….
August 17, 2015 @ 6:27 pm
Stay tuned to the comment page I’m sure I’ll make an ass of myself again in the near future.
August 17, 2015 @ 6:54 pm
I find that hard to understand. Its akin to a French chef who doesn’t like the mother sauces….
August 17, 2015 @ 5:20 pm
You forgot the Hank3 version of the jailcell photo!
Damn, they look like twins
August 17, 2015 @ 6:02 pm
Whoa, that is crazy. Never saw that picture before.
August 17, 2015 @ 6:56 pm
According to the federal government’s BMI calculator, Hank is “morbidly obese” in that picture…
August 17, 2015 @ 8:00 pm
I read books about Hank Williams before I actually worked my way through his original recordings, which blew me away and are as relatable as anything that’s been recorded in the 60+ years since he died. Ironically, “Kaw-Liga” is Hank’s biggest chart hit and the one that has least stood the test of time.
My one hope for the movie is that it energizes interest in the music, and not just the stories about Hank’s excesses. He gave his last performance at the Skyline Club in Austin, and I drive right by the place (now a CVS) all the time.
August 17, 2015 @ 8:17 pm
I know your intention wasn’t to have a conversation about the movie, but have you heard anything about the contents of the soundtrack? The ever-reliable Wikipedia (ha) reports that Hiddleston has been singing “Move It On Over” and “Jambalaya,” and I can’t imagine a movie without “Lovesick Blues,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and the title track. That’s already a lot of songs for a movie, but what about other iconic tracks like “You Win Again,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Take These Chains from My Heart”?
Argh. I like the cast, but there is just no way this movie will make me happy.
August 17, 2015 @ 8:35 pm
Just because Hiddleston is not singing a track does not mean it won’t be featured in the movie. Sony licensed the entire Hank Williams catalog for use in the movie (which is being distributed by Sony Classics), so the use of the original material will not be a problem for it. We’ll just have to see. I haven’t heard any different intel from what is out there about the movie already.
August 18, 2015 @ 4:44 am
What is your favorite Hank Williams song? I Saw the Light is my favorite song of all time, regardless of artist…
F Minor to C
August 18, 2015 @ 9:52 am
I’m not Trig but I vote for Let’s Turn Back the Years. The lyrics just pierce my heart, and it’s got a sweet melody. Plus it’s only two chords!
August 18, 2015 @ 11:38 am
I really don’t like to name “favorites” of anything because some detractor will figure out how to use it against me in the future. I like many of Hank’s songs, and frankly it would be hard for me to name a favorite.
August 18, 2015 @ 2:00 pm
You mean, you don’t wanna talk about the habits? Just the music and the man!?
August 18, 2015 @ 6:00 am
Thanks for sharing. I have always wanted to read a biography detailing Hanks life. Have not done so mainly because of other things getting in the way and not being able to find a good one to read. I agree that stories like this need to be shared. If not he will be forgotten in time.
August 18, 2015 @ 11:03 am
Any radio station that calls itself country and hasn’t played a Hank Williams song in the last 24 hours should be forced to shut down or switch formats.
Old Five and Dimer
August 21, 2015 @ 7:55 pm
Great story on the pic background. I’ll go with “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me” as my fav. That’s a perfect recording.
August 22, 2015 @ 6:16 pm
Hank still stands head and shoulders above every other singer in regards that he wrote and sang the songs that tell his life story…Absolute genius…..Tell it to the pretty boy no talent singers of today….U GOTTA LIVE A LITTLE BIT TO EXPERIENCE HIS LYRICS …..
August 23, 2015 @ 4:41 am
Thanks for sharing the story… I’ve seen that photo bunches of times and read 2 or 3 bios about Hank… always wondered about the story behind it.
August 26, 2015 @ 9:50 am
Just saw this and thought I’d make a little comment. I was leaving a free concert on the banks of lake Martin over a decade ago, and we were pulled over right by the sign that says “entering Kawliga, AL”. After that as Waylon put it, “I was busted for possession of something that was gone”. Got to see that picture proudly displayed in the Alex City jail.
August 26, 2015 @ 6:59 pm
I can’t believe how young Hank was when he died. If I didn’t know it, I’d guess he was 40-something. I know people tend to look older to our eyes today, but dang, he had that old before his time thing.
What a tragedy. And unlike the tragedy of Buddy Holly (the equivalent one in my mind) it was self-made. Poor, genius bastard.
August 31, 2015 @ 7:55 pm
It’s sad that he died so young. Just think what music would be today if he lived a full life. Who was it that told him you have million dollar talent but ten cent brains?
August 19, 2016 @ 2:13 am
Is anyone still here?
August 26, 2016 @ 4:31 am
i loved Hank when i first heard him and i still enjoy him wonder what he would think of this new music
March 11, 2019 @ 9:59 pm
My brother married an old girl from Montgomery, liver on Beechdale Road. They had a cabin at the resort on Lake Martin, and showed me the wooden statue. Said Hank Williams was in jail in Alexander City and wrote the song about the wooden Indian. What do you think?
September 22, 2019 @ 7:36 pm
My ex and I are both from Alex City. Her grandfather was raising hell with Hank that night. Both got arrested together is the family story. Never verified it but wouldn’t doubt it. He was 50% Creek Indian and couldn’t manage his liquor. I’m betting his appearance and Hank’s fondness for the Kowliga Store wooden Indian made them fast pals. Wish I would have asked him before he passed. He always had that outlaw look in his eye. Allegedly cut many a man while grinning from cheek to cheek.
December 7, 2019 @ 7:49 am
My God, he must have been drinking hard liquor constantly to get like that, running around yelling about old ladies being whipped. I was a massive alcoholic for years, drinking a 375 ml of Jim Beam whiskey and a six of beer every night for no joke at least 10 years, and I never got that bad to the point of hallucinations. It was weird but I gained a tolerance for it where it buzzed me then I would be fully recovered the next day to go to work. But I drank enough to make the average person puke. But to get to a physical situation like Hank, jeezus he must have been polishing away quarts of the stuff,
March 2, 2021 @ 8:12 am
The hillbilly Shakespeare will be missed. His truly poetic style of country music was touching to us all i’m sure. I am only 17 but the way I connect with his music makes me feel like I could have been standing right beside of him during every song. I know how bad it is to be addicted as well and this man, Elvis, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Jamey Johnson, Waylon Jennings, Randy Travis, and alike just speak to me and seemingly about me in a bunch of their music. man I would have loved to be alive in the good old days when everybody knew everybody and lived right down the old dirt road in a holler, coke was still cola, the joint was a bad place to be, a buck was still silver, before Vietnam just like Merle Haggard said
August 14, 2022 @ 7:24 pm
Actually if you do the research Hank went months without drinking a drop. He was very thin to begin with so he had very little tolerance for alcohol plus any amount of weight loss really showed. The pain of Spina Bifada, miles and miles of car travel, poor diet – I don’t think there would be many that wouldn’t turn to drugs for some relief. In his case – alcohol, morphine, chloral hydrate etc. and a fake Dr. by his side to write the scripts. Hank, with a year to live was diagnosed with SB and a prominent Nashville physician confided to Hank that “he’d be in a wheelchair within a year’s time”.
I think Hank’s choice of material and powerful vocals appealed to many, especially those of us who had difficulty expressing certain emotions and frustrations. My all-time favorite of Hank’s was the “Lost Highway”. Christian Bale would have been my pick to portray “ole” Hank in a movie role.