Jerry Reed was a multi-talented musician, singer, songwriter, and actor who left an indelible mark on the world of country music. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 20, 1937, Jerry Reed Hubbard had a long and fruitful career, spanning several decades. He was known for his signature songs such as “Guitar Man”, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”, and “East Bound and Down”, as well as his roles in movies like Smokey and the Bandit and The Waterboy. He was also a respected guitarist who played with legends like Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. He won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017. But how did Jerry Reed die? What was the cause of his death? Here are some facts about his life and his passing.
Early Life and Career
Jerry Reed was born in Atlanta and was the second child of Robert and Cynthia Hubbard. His parents separated four months after his birth; he and his sister spent seven years in foster homes or orphanages growing up. He was reunited with his mother and stepfather in 1944. Reed graduated from O’Keefe High School, an Atlanta city school.
By high school, Reed was already writing and singing music, having learned to play the guitar as a child. At age 18, he was signed by publisher and record producer Bill Lowery to cut his first record, “If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise”. He recorded both country and rockabilly singles and found success as a songwriter when label mate Gene Vincent covered his song “Crazy Legs” in 1958.
By 1958, Bill Lowery signed Reed to his company, National Recording Corporation. He recorded for NRC as both an artist and as a member of the staff band which included Joe South and Ray Stevens, other NRC artists. Reed married Priscilla “Prissy” Mitchell in 1959. They had two daughters, Seidina Ann Hubbard, born April 2, 1960, and Charlotte Elaine (Lottie) Zavala, born October 19, 1970. Mitchell was a member of folk group The Appalachians (“Bony Moronie”, 1963), and with Roy Drusky was co-credited on the 1965 country No. 1 “Yes, Mr. Peters”.
In 1959, Reed hit the Billboard “Bubbling Under the Top 100”, also known as the Roar and Cashbox Country chart with the single “Soldier’s Joy”. He continued to record for various labels throughout the 1960s, including Capitol Records, RCA Victor, and United Artists. He also became a popular session musician who played on recordings by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and many others.
Breakthrough and Stardom
Reed’s breakthrough came in 1967 when he wrote and recorded “Guitar Man”, a song that caught the attention of Elvis Presley, who recorded his own version of it with Reed playing guitar. Presley also recorded two other songs written by Reed: “U.S. Male” and “A Thing Called Love”. Reed’s own version of “Guitar Man” reached No. 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 7 on the country chart.
Reed signed with RCA Victor in 1968 and began working with producer Chet Atkins, who also became his mentor and duet partner. Together they recorded several albums of instrumental music that showcased their virtuosity on the guitar. They won two Grammy Awards for Best Country Instrumental Performance: one in 1970 for “Me & Jerry” and another in 1972 for “Me & Chet”.
Reed also established himself as a solo artist with a string of hit singles that blended country, rockabilly, humor, and storytelling. Some of his most famous songs include “Amos Moses”, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”, “Ko-Ko Joe”, “Lord Mr. Ford”, “The Bird”, and “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)”. He won another Grammy Award in 1972 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”.
Reed also ventured into acting in the 1970s, appearing in several films alongside his friend Burt Reynolds. He made his film debut in W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), followed by Gator (1976), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), High-Ballin’ (1978), Hot Stuff (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Survivors (1983), Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), and What Comes Around (1985). He also starred in his own short-lived television series, The Jerry Reed Show, in 1976.
Reed’s most memorable role was as Cledus “Snowman” Snow, the truck-driving sidekick of Reynolds’ character in the Smokey and the Bandit franchise. He also wrote and performed the theme song for the first film, “East Bound and Down”, which became one of his signature tunes. The song reached No. 2 on the country chart and No. 30 on the pop chart in 1977.
Later Years and Death
Reed continued to record and perform throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although his popularity declined as country music changed. He released several albums on various labels, including Mercury Records, MCA Records, Capitol Records, and R2K Records. He also appeared in a few more films, such as Bat*21 (1988), The Waterboy (1998), and The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! (1997).
Reed was diagnosed with emphysema in 2004, a disease of the lungs that usually develops after many years of smoking. Reed was a smoker for many years. He underwent a quadruple bypass surgery in June 2004 and had a pacemaker implanted in February 2007. He also suffered from diabetes and arthritis.
Reed died in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 1, 2008, of complications from emphysema at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife Priscilla, his two daughters, and several grandchildren. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville.
Reed’s legacy lives on through his music, which has influenced many artists across genres. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009 and into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017. He was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.
Jerry Reed was a versatile and talented entertainer who left a lasting impression on country music and beyond. He will always be remembered as the Guitar Man, the Snowman, and one of the greatest country singers of all time.