Boxcar Willie Cause of Death: How the Country Music Legend Lost His Battle with Leukemia

Boxcar Willie was a country music singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s with his distinctive “old-time hobo” style. He wore overalls, a floppy hat, and a train whistle around his neck, and sang songs about life on the road and rails. He was a beloved performer who sold millions of records and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and HeeHaw. But behind his cheerful persona, he was fighting a deadly disease that eventually claimed his life. Here is the story of Boxcar Willie’s cause of death and how he faced his final days with courage and grace.

The Early Years of Boxcar Willie

Boxcar Willie was born Lecil Travis Martin on September 1, 1931, in Ovilla, Texas, to a railroad worker father and a homemaker mother. He grew up listening to country music legends like Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell, and learned to play guitar and sing at an early age. He also developed a fascination with trains and hobos, which would later inspire his stage persona.

He joined the United States Air Force in 1949, and served as a flight engineer on the B-29 Super Fortress during the Korean War. He continued his military career for 27 years, flying missions in Europe and Asia. During this time, he also pursued his musical passion, performing under various names on local radio and television shows. He married his wife Lloene in 1962, and they had four children.

The Rise of Boxcar Willie

In the mid-1970s, Martin retired from the Air Force and became a full-time musician. He created the character of Boxcar Willie, a singing hobo who traveled the country by hopping on freight trains. He based the name on a man he saw sitting on a boxcar while he was waiting at a railroad crossing. He said, “There was an old boy sitting on a boxcar, dressed the way I dress today, and he looked just like a buddy of mine named Willie Wilson. I said, ‘There’s Willie in a boxcar,’ and that’s where it came from.” [according to Wikipedia]

He adopted the look of a raggedy hobo, wearing patched overalls, a torn jacket, an old hat, and a train whistle around his neck. He also mastered the vocal imitation of a train whistle, which he learned from Jimmie Rodgers. He sang songs that celebrated the freedom and adventure of the hobo lifestyle, as well as classic country tunes from his idols.

He made his first national appearance on The Gong Show in 1976, where he won first place and a $150 prize. He then embarked on a series of tours in Britain, where he found a loyal fan base among oil-riggers and servicemen. He also performed at the prestigious Wembley Country Music Festival in 1979, where he received a standing ovation from the audience. [according to The Guardian]

He returned to America with his newfound fame, and was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1981. He also appeared regularly on the popular television show HeeHaw, where he showcased his humor and charisma. He sold millions of records through television commercials and personal appearances, bypassing major record labels. He also opened his own theater and motel in Branson, Missouri, where he performed for thousands of fans every year.

The Diagnosis of Leukemia

In 1996, Martin was diagnosed with leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood cells. He was told that he had only two years to live. He decided to keep his condition private from his fans and continue performing as long as he could. He said, “I don’t want people coming to see me because they think I’m going to die.” [according to MTV]

He underwent chemotherapy treatments and blood transfusions to fight the disease, but his health gradually deteriorated. He lost weight and hair, and suffered from fatigue and pain. He also developed pneumonia and other infections that weakened his immune system.

He performed his last show at his theater on March 23, 1999. He then checked into a hospital in Branson for treatment. His condition worsened over the next few weeks, and he slipped into a coma.

The Death of Boxcar Willie

On April 12, 1999, Martin died at the age of 67 at his home in Branson. His wife Lloene was by his side when he passed away. His death was announced by his publicist Dale Morris, who said that Martin died peacefully in his sleep.

He was survived by his wife Lloene; their four children Tammy Sue (Martin) Linderholm (born 1963), Thomas Martin (born 1965), Larry Martin (born 1967), and Kimberly Ann (Martin) Martin (born 1970); and several grandchildren. He was buried at the Ozarks Memorial Park Cemetery in Branson.

He was mourned by his fans and fellow musicians, who remembered him as a kind, generous, and talented man who brought joy to millions of people with his music. He was also honored by the Grand Ole Opry, which dimmed its lights in tribute to him. He was inducted into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Boxcar Willie was a country music legend who left a lasting legacy with his unique style and personality. He was a true original who followed his dreams and touched many hearts. He was a hobo at heart, who sang his way into history.

Doms Desk

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