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Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and 8 Other Country Stars Who Survived Hardship and Tragedy
From death to drug addiction, divorce to disease, the following 10 celebrities handled the cards life dealt them with grace and strength. Their stories show how everyday folks can make it through these sorts of challenges, too.
All music has the power to touch people. But the soulful singers who belt out those twangy country tunes are particularly known for their ability to show empathy for all sorts of emotions and situations. The following country stars are not only skilled artists, they also have experienced significant hardships that may make them more relatable to their fans. As these famous faces (and voices) can attest, no matter who you are, you’re likely going to face some degree of hardship in your life — and you have to choose how you deal with it. From death to drug addiction and divorce to disease, the following 10 celebrities handled the cards life dealt them with grace and strength. Read their stories and learn how we, too, can make it through these sorts of challenges.
1. Carrie Underwood
After a major fall outside her home in Nashville in 2017, Carrie Underwood needed more than 40 stitches in her face. Shortly after, Underwood wrote her a letter to her fan club members expressing concern because she did “not quite look the same.” As someone who makes a living from her voice and her appearance, this kind of accident had life-changing potential. “When your appearance changes drastically, it makes sense that your sense of identity might shift as well," says therapist Jessica Tappana, clinical director and founder of Aspire Counseling. Tappana suggests practicing gratitude and focusing on something you’re passionate about to make it through this situation. Underwood did just that when she wrote: "I am grateful that it wasn’t much, much worse. And I am grateful for the people in my life that have been there every step of the way.”
Up next: This country star’s scars were more emotional than physical after a big breakup…
2. Blake Shelton
Going through a divorce in the spotlight is tough enough, but for Blake Shelton, rumors of infidelity likely made the situation even more painful. Allegedly, his now ex-wife Miranda Lambert cheated on him not once, but twice. “There is great shame in being cheated on,” says counselor Debra Whittam, author of “Am I Going to Be OK?” “There is the death of a dream of the relationship and a blindsided shock to remind you we are all replaceable.” To make it through, Whittam suggests connecting with people who have been similarly wronged to begin the healing process.
Up next: This country star faced divorce and another devastating challenge at the same time…
3. Garth Brooks
Almost 20 years ago, country superstar Garth Brooks faced two life tragedies: a divorce from his first wife, Sandy Mahl, and the death of his mother from cancer. According to therapist Ruth E. Field, LCSW, author of “The 4 Facets of Grief,” sustaining two profound losses at the same time can be a turning point for anyone, famous or not. "Your parent who died is possibly someone you would have turned to for support in navigating your divorce, leaving you feeling even more alone and vulnerable than ever,” she says. Field suggests engaging in self-care and in activities that have personal meaning for you to cope. For Brooks, these events actually compelled him to step away from his hugely successful career and become a stay-at-home dad for the next 14 years.
Up next: The next country star faced adversity well before she became famous…
4. Dolly Parton
She may be a household name now, but Dolly Parton grew up poor in the mountains of east Tennessee, where many people she knew were illiterate — including her own family members. “My own dad couldn’t read nor write… I just saw how crippling that was to so many of my relatives,” she told NPR. “They didn’t have the chance to do a lot of things they would have had they had an education.”
According to therapist Jessica Tappana, becoming rich and famous after struggling financially can be difficult. “People may feel like they ‘don’t belong,’ or they wonder why they’ve been successful while people they grew up with are still living in poverty,” she says. “These thoughts can keep them from enjoying their success.” Tappana suggests overcoming guilt of success by giving back, and Parton has done just that with her Imagination Library, which promotes literacy and provides free books to children.
Up next: Unlike Parton, the next star’s major adversity happened in connection with her fame…
5. Reba McEntire
In 1991, Reba McEntire’s entire band died in a plane crash, an event that affected her so much she dedicated her album "For My Broken Heart" to them. In March 2016, she took to Instagram to mark the 25th anniversary of the tragic event, writing, “I feel in my heart that they know we still miss them so much.”
It can be very hard to be a survivor in a situation like this. “You may blame yourself for the person’s death, even though you know you didn’t actually cause it,” Field says. “People can feel tortured by such self-blame.” There’s also a perception that other people might blame you as well. Therapist Ruth E. Field suggests talking to a therapist about the difference between association and causation to resolve the guilt. “You are associated with the person’s death, but you didn’t cause it,” she says.
Up next: This country singer also dealt with death in a very personal way…
6. Kenny Chesney
The sudden death of a longtime friend gave Kenny Chesney some life-changing perspective. Chesney told People the loss compelled him to wonder if he had said and done all the things that really mattered if his life was to end suddenly too. “You realize it could all end in a second,” he said.
“When we lose a dear friend, it can take a long time to resolve the loss because you are actually grieving both the friendship and the person,” says loss and grief therapist Kayce Hodos, LPC, NCC. “This kind of loss can also bring up facing one’s own mortality.” In this situation, Field suggests contacting your friend’s family to help them through this difficult time. This gives you something to focus on, and being of service to these blood relatives can be a source of comfort for everyone.
Up next: This legendary singer dealt with unimaginable loss…
7. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson's son Billy killed himself at age 33 after struggling with alcohol abuse. “I’ve never experienced anything so devastating in my life,” Nelson reportedly told a friend of this tragic loss. “Not only is this an out-of-order death — parents are supposed to die before their children — but it’s also a trigger for parental guilt,” Field says. “Parents are supposed to take care of their children, and a child’s suicide can feel like the ultimate in bad parenting, even when you thought you were doing everything right.” According to grief, death and dying expert Kriss A. Kevorkian, Ph.D., MSW, this is a situation in which the entire family, including grandparents and siblings, should seek professional help.
The next country singer’s adversity wasn’t a death, but she did lose something important...
8. Shania Twain
After contracting Lyme disease in 2003 — at the height of her career — Shania Twain subsequently developed dysphonia, a vocal cord condition that left her unable to sing. Facing a chronic condition that threatens your health and your livelihood can be significant. “A major illness takes us out of our everyday routine,” says psychotherapist Anna Marcolin, LCSW, who frequently counsels cancer patients. “It interrupts work, our social lives, our families. And this can have a major impact on one’s mental health.” Marcolin adds that “empowerment techniques,” such as education about the diagnosis and disease, as well as finding additional ways of helping yourself through nutrition, exercise and alternative therapies, can be great ways to cope. Fortunately for Twain, years of therapy and vocal training allowed her to get back to singing and performing.
Up next: A lifelong disease plagues the next country singer on our list…
9. Keith Urban
Keith Urban has publicly struggled with his drug and alcohol addiction for years, telling Rolling Stone that the catalyst for his usage was feeling insecure as an artist. Life in the spotlight may look glamorous, but the pressure can sometimes be too much. “Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with addiction in a public way, the shame of others knowing you’ve relapsed can make it even more difficult to admit when you need help and re-enter treatment," says therapist Jessica Tappana. Thankfully, Urban’s wife, Nicole Kidman, realized he needed help and staged an intervention soon after their 2006 marriage. Since this last stint in rehab (his third) he’s stayed clean and thrived.
Up next: Our next country star had to handle something unlike any of the trials that the previous singers experienced…
10. Natalie Maines
After her outspoken political comments against President George W. Bush, Dixie Chicks star Natalie Maines received a scary death threat that left her shaken. According to psychotherapist Anna Marcolin, getting a death threat compromises your sense of safety, power and control. “An individual becomes completely vulnerable against their will and may find themselves having difficulty just walking down the street or being at home alone,” she explains. To feel safe again, Marcolin suggests first calling the police, then enlisting friends and family for comfort by asking them to stay with you to make you feel more physically safe. Taking a self-defense class can also be a good way to help regain your agency.