No, I never thought I would be writing a headline like that either. When you think of Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, cocaine isn’t exactly what comes to mind. It’s more like strong Christian values. But that wasn’t always the case for Larry Gatlin, especially back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when his career was in its heyday. Apparently he had a pretty big cocaine problem.
This wasn’t completely unknown, but it was unknown—or at least uncomfirmed—that Larry Gatlin was the subject of a story conveyed in actor and famous Texan Matthew McConaughey’s memoir called Greenlights released in October of 2020. In the book, a story is told through the perspective of legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal about a country artist with a cocaine problem.
You may be even more confused what football coach Darrell Royal would have to do with country as you are Larry Gatlin with cocaine, or Matthew McConaughey with any of this. But Coach Royal was actually a big booster of the Austin music scene as it was taking off in the 70’s, and became good friends with many country stars, including Larry Gatlin.
Anyway, even though Matthew McConaughey used the name “Larry” in his book as the name for the country music artist with a cocaine problem, it seemed a little too obvious it might be Larry Gatlin, and that only threw people off the scent. But late last week, Larry came forward to fess up, and use it as a lesson in recovery.
Here is the story from Part 5 of Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights:
The late and great University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal was a good friend of mine, and a good friend of many. A lot of people looked up to him, and one of them was a musician whom I’ll just call Larry.
Larry was in the prime of his country music career and had #1 hits, and his life was rolling. He had picked up the habit of snorting the white stuff somewhere along the line, and at one particular party after a bathroom break, Larry strolled up to his mentor Darrell and started telling the coach a story. Coach listened, and as always, and when Larry finished his story and was about to walk away, coach Royal put a gentle hand on his shoulder, and discreetly said, ‘Larry, you’ve got something on your nose there bud.’
Larry immediately hurried to the bathroom mirror where he saw some white powder he hadn’t cleaned off. He was ashamed, embarrassed, and party because he felt so disrespectful to Coach Royal, but mainly because he’d obviously gotten too comfortable with the drug to even hide it as well as he should have.
Well the next day Larry went to Coach’s house, and rang the doorbell. Coach answered and Larry said, ‘Coach, I need to talk to you.’ Darrell welcomed him in, and Larry confessed. He purged his sins to Coach. He told him how embarrassed he was, and how he’d lost his way. And in an hour, Larry—now in tears asked Coach, ‘What do you think I should do?’ Now Coach, being a man of few words said simply, ‘Larry, I have never had any trouble turning the page in the book of my life.’ Larry got sober that day, and he’s been sober for the last 46 years.
It’s actually only been 37 years according to Larry Gatlin. But still, it’s a good story.
“I remember the day, it was October something of 1984,” Gatlin told People. “University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal and I were talking. We had hit it off right away. For me, he was one of those people that you meet, and you instantly don’t have to explain anything to each other. We were at this Pro-Am party at this golf tournament, and Coach Royal caught me with white powder on my nose.”
“Lord knows that I have done some things I wish I hadn’t done,” Gatlin continues. “But it brought me to right here, right now, sitting on this back porch on this swing watching my wife Janis chase away the bees from her honeysuckle plants. Life is so very good. And quite frankly, I’m proud to know Matthew and I’m thankful for him.”