Johnny Paycheck Cause of Death: How the Outlaw Country Singer Lived and Died

Johnny Paycheck was a country music singer and songwriter who rose to fame in the 1970s as part of the outlaw movement, along with artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. He is best known for his hit song “Take This Job and Shove It”, which became an anthem for disgruntled workers everywhere. But behind his rebellious image and catchy tunes, Paycheck had a troubled life that was marked by drug abuse, legal problems, and health issues. He died on February 19, 2003, at the age of 64, from pulmonary emphysema and asthma. Here is a brief overview of his life and career, and how he met his tragic end.

Early Years and Musical Beginnings

Johnny Paycheck was born Donald Eugene Lytle on May 31, 1938, in Greenfield, Ohio. He grew up in a poor family and had a difficult childhood. He started singing and playing guitar at an early age, and entered talent contests when he was nine. He ran away from home when he was 15 and became a drifter, hopping on trains and hitchhiking across the country. He joined the Navy in 1955, but was court-martialed and imprisoned for two years for assaulting an officer.

After his release, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked as a backup singer and musician for several country stars, such as Ray Price, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner, and George Jones. He also wrote songs for other artists, such as Tammy Wynette’s first hit “Apartment No. 9”. He changed his name to Johnny Paycheck in 1964, inspired by a boxer named Johnny Paychek who fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title. He recorded his first solo hit “A-11” in 1965, which reached No. 26 on the Billboard country chart.

Outlaw Success and Controversy

Paycheck’s career took off in the early 1970s, when he signed with Epic Records and adopted an outlaw persona that appealed to the younger and more rebellious audience. He scored several top ten hits, such as “She’s All I Got”, “Someone to Give My Love To”, “Mr. Lovemaker”, “Slide Off Your Satin Sheets”, and “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)”. His most famous song, however, was “Take This Job and Shove It”, written by David Allan Coe, which topped the country chart in 1978 and crossed over to the pop chart. The song also inspired a movie of the same name starring Robert Hays and Barbara Hershey.

Paycheck’s outlaw image was not just a gimmick; he lived a wild and reckless life that often landed him in trouble with the law. He was sued by the IRS for $103,000 in back taxes in 1982, which led him to file for bankruptcy in 1990. He also had a history of drug abuse, especially cocaine, which affected his health and performance. He was involved in several violent incidents, such as shooting a man in the head in an Ohio bar in 1985, for which he was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. He appealed the verdict and remained free until 1989, when he was finally sent to jail. He served two years before being pardoned by Ohio Governor Richard Celeste.

Later Years and Death

Paycheck’s career declined in the 1980s and 1990s, as he struggled with his personal demons and health problems. He released a few albums on independent labels, but none of them made much impact on the charts or the critics. He became a born-again Christian while in prison and quit drugs and alcohol. He also joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1997 as a regular member. However, his health continued to deteriorate due to emphysema and asthma, which made it hard for him to breathe and sing. He was hospitalized several times and underwent heart bypass surgery in 1998.

On February 19, 2003, Johnny Paycheck died in his sleep at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He was survived by his wife Sharon Rae (whom he married in 1969) and two children from previous marriages. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville.

Johnny Paycheck left behind a legacy of songs that captured the spirit of the outlaw country movement and resonated with millions of fans who identified with his rebellious attitude and honest emotions. He also influenced many other artists who admired his talent and courage. As Steve Wariner said after Paycheck’s death: “He sure cut some great country music.”

Doms Desk

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