On The New Details of Country Legend Tom T. Hall’s Death

When country music Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall passed away on August 20th, 2021 at the age of 85, it was safe to assume his death was due to health or natural causes, as is commonly the case with someone at such an advanced age. After his passing was formally announced by his son Dean Hall, no questions were asked, and no reporting was done following up on a cause of death. It didn’t feel particularly necessary, and for some, it might even feel inappropriate. It was likely an open and shut case anyway. The focus by most was honoring the country legend who went by the nickname “The Storyteller,” which is where the focus should have been.

Recently, Saving Country Music posted it’s annual In Memoriam article enumerating and eulogizing the important country music individuals who passed away in 2021, including Tom T. Hall. To my surprise, numerous commenters both on the site and on social media lamented that Hall’s passing was especially sad since it was the case of a suicide.

Not having seen any news about this, nor being able to find anything about it in any official or verifiable capacity anywhere, I initially questioned the validity of these suicide claims. What I did discover through scouring the internet is that it was a fairly pervasive rumor, tied in part to one poorly-worded and undated report.

Looking to refute, or potentially, verify the possible rumor, I made some inquiries to officials in Williamson County, Tennessee where Tom T. Hall’s home was in Franklin, and where he passed away. I am now able to verify that Tom T. Hall did indeed die from suicide and not natural causes, according to the Williamson County Medical Examiner. You can find the specific details of such at the bottom of this article.

I’ve been sitting on this information for a few days now, and for a few reasons. First, I wanted to reach out to Tom T. Hall’s survivors, and specifically his son Dean, and give them the opportunity to speak on the matter if they chose, or provide a statement from the family as he did at his father’s passing, so this news could be conveyed in the most respectful manner possible.

At the time of this post, I have not heard back from Dean Hall. In fact, it appears shortly after he announced his father’s death, Dean Hall deleted his social media accounts. Like his father, Dean Hall is a musician. So was Tom T. Hall’s wife, Dixie Hall, who passed away in 2015. The couple had no children. Dean Hall was Tom T. Hall’s son from a previous marriage.

I’m sure some will question why this news even needs to be conveyed now. In truth, the news about Tom T. Hall’s death was already out there, and spreading. It just wasn’t being reported in a way that dignified this man’s contributions to American letters and music, or that could be verified in a manner that would set this information properly within the public record. It was left to gossip channels, and social media posts, and eventually, click bait.

It also is important for the media to tell the full story of Tom T. Hall’s passing, no different than any other musical legend or cultural celebrity. The fact that we didn’t know how Tom T. Hall died until many months later—and nobody in the media (myself included) felt the the need to ask—speaks to the overlooked nature of Tom T. Hall’s legacy, and that of many country music legends.

Reflecting on Tom T. Hall’s career, you can remark on the eight #1 singles he achieved, the some 35 records he released, the memorable songs such as “A Week in a County Jail,” “How I Got To Memphis,” “I Love,” “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine,” and “Faster Horses,” or all the songs he wrote for others, including most notably Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA” which sold six million copies, won Grammy Awards, and was such a cultural phenomenon it inspired a motion picture and TV program.

Tom T. Hall also wrote songs for some of the greatest country artists that ever lived such as Johnny Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, and even more contemporary artists like Alan Jackson. Ask any of them, and they would set you straight about the importance of Tom T. Hall.

But any commercial accolades almost seem unimportant when regarding the Hall of Fame legacy of Tom T. Hall. Most important to understand is that nobody could write a song like him. But since plenty tried, it elevated the entire enterprise of country music, and for generations.

Tom T. Hall largely retired from writing new material in 1986, and mostly retired from performing in 1994. His last public performance was in 2011. Perhaps he could have continued on, but unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be a place in culture for the aged out country star, unless you’re in a very select group such as Willie Nelson or Loretta Lynn, and even they had to endure dark periods in their careers where neither the radio nor the mainstream found them relevant, and they hadn’t yet reached that “living legend” status either, which some never do. Others chose to end their careers on their own terms, and enjoy retirement as opposed to struggle for continued relevance.

We don’t know the specific circumstances surrounding Tom T. Hall’s suicide. He did not leave a note that we know of. Informal reports say he was suffering from numerous health problems when he died. The autopsy report make no specific mention of a health ailment, but does say Hall was using the prescription drug Chlordiazepoxide at the time, which is used to treat anxiety, and to aid in alcohol withdrawal. We can’t assume the culprit was that Tom T. Hall felt abandoned by country music, similar to country star Faron Young, who was recently remembered on the 25th Anniversary of his suicide. Tom T. Hall could have just been in severe pain and discomfort, which Faron Young was also in when he decided to take his own life.

What we do know is that regardless of the circumstances, there should be no shame in the situation felt by anyone. We live in a strange era when only one disease seems to arrest our attention, when so many other issues are ravaging society, and the music world specifically. In 2021, the leading cause of death for people from 18 to 45 was not COVID-19, it was fentanyl overdose. January 4th, 2022 was supposed to be the 40th birthday of performer Justin Townes Earle. He died in 2020 due to overdosing on fentanyl-laced cocaine. The second leading cause of death for people from 18 to 45 in 2021 was suicide. COVID-19 was #3.

Obviously, Tom T. Hall was older than 45. But a strange unwillingness to either speak about or address these devastating trends of suicide and overdose due to lingering social stigmas in public discourse is an unhealthy trend all unto itself. Instead of sweeping these circumstances under the rug, it’s important to talk about them openly so we all understand the severity and implications, so we are all reminded to check in on our friends and loved ones, that we all understand that isolation also comes with a cost, and that we understand how significant those costs can be.

Tom T. Hall lived a legendary, prolonged, productive, and memorable life, and ultimately decided to end it on his own terms. There isn’t any loss of dignity in that for anyone, nor should there be.

What makes the case of Tom T. Hall’s passing especially heartbreaking his how his music was always there for us in our times of need and heartbreak. That’s what Tom T. Hall was specifically perfect for—when we needed someone or something to help douse a sour mood, or reset our perspective on life. Tom T. Hall’s music was about the simple things—old dogs, children, and watermelon wine. His song “The Day Clayton Delaney Died” is especially poignant whenever someone passes away.

I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died
They said for the last two weeks that he suffered and cried
It made a big impression on me, although I was a barefoot kid
They said he got religion at the end and I’m glad that he did

I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died
Nobody ever knew it but I went out in the woods and I cried
Well, I know there’s a lotta big preachers that know a lot more than I do
But it could be that the good lord likes a little pickin’ too

Tom T. Hall should be remembered for his music, his manner, and his person. Any other circumstances will always be secondary.

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The Williamson County, Tennessee Medical Examiner’s report conducted by Samuel Smith M.D. reads that Tom T. Hall “had sustained an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, to the head, on the morning of 8/20/2021. A 911 call was placed at 1115 hours on 8/20/201. Williamson County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) and Williamson Medical Emergency Medical Services (WMC EMS) responded to the call. Paramedics confirmed death at approximately 1133 hours, due to obvious injuries.”

The manner of death was ruled a suicide.

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