Hank Williams Jr. Cheats Death With 530-Foot Fall From Montana Mountain (1975)
Kevin Mazure/Getty Images
In 1975, Hank Williams Jr.’s life was forever changed after a terrifying fall off the side of a Montana mountain nearly cost him his life.
Hank Williams Jr. has endured more than his fair share of heartache. The only son and namesake of legendary country singer Hank Williams, Hank Jr. was destined for stardom. After Hank Sr.s untimely death when Jr. was only four, the younger Williams grew up surrounded by the likes of Johnny and June Carter Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Earl Scruggs, to name a few. These legends would come to Hank Jr.’s side decades later when he was recovering from a near-fatal fall.
Hank Williams Jr.’s Near-Death Experience
On August 8, 1975, just weeks after he finished recording his breakthrough album, Hank Williams Jr. & Friends, the singer was hiking Ajax Peak in western Montana with local rancher, Dick Willey, and Willey’s 11-year-old son Walt. While navigating the icy terrain, Williams slipped when a snow field beneath him gave way. The then-26-year-old Williams fell more than 500 feet, striking the jagged mountainside as he fell.
The Willeys hurried down the mountain, making their way to Williams who was lying motionless and bleeding. They were surprised to find him alive and conscious, but knew that his injuries were serious. When Dick and Walk 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.
Dick told his son to stay with William and to talk to the singer while he went for help. For nearly four hours, young Walt talked to Hank nonstop to keep him awake.
Six hours later, and with the help of six men and a helicopter, Hank Jr. landed at the hospital in Missoula, Montana, where he underwent more than seven hours of surgery. Doctors didn’t expect him to survive.
Hank Williams Jr. woke up to see his godmother, June Carter Cash, and the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash, by his side.
“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.”
Nine days later, Hank looked at himself in the mirror for the first time. He later recalled 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.
Hank Jr. remained hospitalized until August 25. Just two-and-a-half weeks after the tragic accident, Williams was released, but that was just the beginning of a long road to recovery.
“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.”
Nine more surgeries followed over the course of two years. His face and skull were rebuilt with skin grafts, metal plates, and screws. He never expected to be able to talk again, But, two years after the fall, Hank released two albums, One Night Stand and The New South.
He also debuted a new look. Previously clean-shaven, the singer grew a beard and wore dark sunglasses to hide scars that the accident left behind. The now-signature look was the perfect fit for his own distinct rebel country sound.
The Accident Changed Hank Williams Jr.’s Life
In an interview with radio personality Bobby Bones in 2022, Hank Williams Jr. was asked what he remembers about the terrifying fall. He replied, “All of it…I remember every bit of it.” He added that doctors credited his survival with the fact that he didn’t pass out on the mountain.
“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.”
Hank told Lorriane Crook in an undated interview that the accident gave him a different perspective on 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 to Lorriane Crook about the accident that nearly cost him his life below.