Fans the world over loved Tammy Wynette's music and her unmistakably powerful singing voice. But what they might not have realized was that the woman behind those classic songs lived a terribly tragic life.
1. She Had A Tragic Beginning
From the very beginning, Tammy Wynette’s life was far from an easy one. When she was only nine months old, her father William—an aspiring musician—received a tragic diagnosis. He had a brain tumor. Faced with the reality of his short life and broken dreams, he introduced little Tammy to the piano and made a harrowing request.
2. She Had A Broken Family
Wynette’s father wanted her to learn piano once she grew old enough, but he had no clue just how deeply music would rule his daughter’s destiny. Following his demise, the family broke apart and stitched itself back together in new ways. Her mother left her in the care of her grandparents. Growing up on a Mississippi farm, her roots were undeniably humble—but it was clear from the get-go that Wynette had a rebellious nature.
3. She Was A Rebel
In high school, Tammy Wynette was already the belle of the ball—but her popularity got her into all sorts of trouble. As one of the cool girls, Wynette started smoking and even became interested in dating boys, to her mother’s chagrin. This is where the teen’s naughty side really reared its sneaky head. You see, Wynette had a secret romance.
4. She Kept Him A Secret
In the early 60s, Wynette fell in love for the first time with a boy from church, Billy Cole. What’s more? She was utterly determined to marry Cole. To keep her mother in the dark, Wynette mail-ordered some inexpensive rings and had them sent to her high school. But despite all this trouble, her mother still discovered her scandalous plan.
5. She Made Bad Decisions
Though Wynette’s mother managed to stop her from making rash, marital decisions, she still found her daughter almost impossible to control. The next time Wynette set her eyes on a prospective beau, not even her mother could stop her from making the worst choices. His name was Euple Byrd, and though Tammy Wynette was only 17, she decided that she had to have him.
But this was no “happily ever after”.
6. She Clashed With Her Mother
Wynette’s decision to marry enraged her mother, who refused to sign the necessary paperwork for the marriage to go through. In fact, she kicked Wynette out of the house altogether. That’s when Wynette’ grandfather came to the rescue—and put pen to paper for her. Little did he know, he’d just signed away his granddaughter’s happiness.
7. She Lived In Poverty
Tammy Wynette’s first marriage to Euple Byrd was tumultuous. The couple fought constantly, usually about Byrd’s inability to hold down a steady job. Moreover, their living conditions were deplorable. For a time, they lived rent-free in one of her grandfather’s properties—but the home was a downright nightmare.
Wynette lived in a ramshackle home with no heat, electricity, or running water. But it was about to get so much worse.
8. She Couldn’t Put Down Roots
As Euple found jobs in different places, the couple bounced around from Alabama to Tennessee. As such, Wynette’s occupations flip-flopped constantly. She went from attending beauty school to working as a barmaid, all while balancing the demands of motherhood. However, it was while singing for her customers at the bar that Wynette’s true talents began to make themselves known.
The bar owner and the pianist both saw her potential and even suggested she move to Nashville. But before Wynette could chase her dreams, she had to suffer a lot more.
9. She Had A Nervous Breakdown
Eventually, Wynette reached her breaking point—and told her husband to leave. However, he kept crawling back. She just couldn’t shake him, and after one horrible argument, Wynette reportedly suffered a “nervous breakdown”. Taken to a psychiatric hospital by her family, Wynette underwent some extreme treatments.
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10. She Ended Up In A Psychiatric Hospital
Diagnosed with depression, Wynette endured 12 rounds of electric shock treatment. It may have been the ultimate wake-up call, because upon being released from the hospital, she knew that she wanted a divorce. But here’s the rub: Her mother disapproved. This is where things got even messier.
Instead of getting a much-needed divorce, Wynette secretly took her daughters and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. Thankfully, this was the beginning of the end.
12. Her Husband Didn’t Believe In Her
Despite the fact that her life had gone off the rails, Wynette still tried to give her marriage with Byrd one more shot. But this was only delaying the inevitable. After all, Wynette’s husband didn’t believe in her dreams of becoming a country performer. In 1965, they finally divorced.
But as we’ll see, when it came to her awful first husband, Wynette played the long game. It would be years before she got the ultimate revenge.
13. She Was A Single Mother
Leaving her first marriage wasn’t easy. Although she was still only 20 years old, Wynette already had two children—and when she left Byrd, she made a disturbing discovery. She was pregnant again. Sadly, her new daughter developed spinal meningitis right after she was born. Wynette was now left to fend for these three on her own.
A daunting, new chapter lay ahead.
14. She Had Her Head Turned
Freed from the shackles of Euple Byrd, Wynette finally made her way to Nashville. In 1966, she packed up her belongings and her three daughters and made the fateful move. She moved into the Anchor Motel, using it as a home base as she tried to wrangle up a record deal. But Wynette had one eye on the prize and the other on a new, handsome man.
15. She Went On The Road
While staying at the motel, Tammy Wynette met the musician, Don Chapel. Wynette wasted no time in reviving her romantic life and quickly moved in with him. But that wasn’t all. They also went into business together, throwing together a road show and performing together. But though Chapel tried to win his new girlfriend a recording contract, every company crushed Wynette’s dreams and rejected her.
This streak of bad luck, however, was all about to change.
16. She Got A Big Break
After years of dreaming about being a recording artist, Wynette finally got a break—but it wasn’t all smooth-sailing. Though she impressed producer Billy Sherrill with her songs and landed a recording contract with Epic Records, Wynette barely scraped by. Even when her debut single “Apartment No 9” made the charts, she faced a fresh new set of infuriating challenges.
17. They Didn't Want Her
Tammy Wynette soon learned the dark reality of working in country music. Sadly, a hit song didn’t necessarily make her into a rich woman. When it came to arranging tour dates, her booking agent struggled. Promoters were less likely to book her because she was a woman. Wynette later said, “I had begun to realize I was working in a man’s world, and most of them looked down on women in the business”.
But these weren’t the only men Wynette worried herself with. In addition to her career, her personal life was about to take a very dramatic turn.
18. She Fell For Another Man
Despite marrying in 1967, Tammy Wynette and Don Chapel’s relationship was short-lived. And that had everything to do with her feelings for another man—George Jones. But here’s the thing. All three of them—Wynette, Chapel, and Jones—were friends. They all spent a significant time together, which undoubtedly helped the spark between Wynette and Jones grow into a flame. It was a recipe for disaster.
19. She Couldn't Hide It Forever
On one occasion, Jones supported Wynette in her distressing time of need. He helped her when one of her daughters ended up in the hospital due to food poisoning. The next day, he dropped by—and that’s when the entire dynamic took an ugly turn. First of all, Wynette’s husband Chapel began to smell a rat. He was annoyed that Wynette kept playing Jones’s records—and displayed his frustrations in a chilling way.
20. Her Men Battled It Out
Soon, Chapel started hurling insults and profanities at Wynette. Jones, playing the knight in shining armor, couldn’t just stand by and watch this horror show unfold. He had to intervene. Angry at Chapel for his disgusting display, Jones proceeded to flip the dining room table. He later recounted in his autobiography, “Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates”.
It didn’t end there.
21. She Came Clean
Tammy Wynette’s second marriage ended with a bang. After Jones made a scene in the dining room, it was confession time. Both he and Wynette revealed their feelings for one another. It was quick break, but it was anything but clean. Wynette, her three daughters, and Jones left in the wake of this fiasco—never to return to the Chapel home.
Still, this marriage left a scandalous legacy behind.
22. He Betrayed Her
In her autobiography, Wynette made a chilling claim about her ex-husband, Chapel. According to her, he had taken racy photographs of her and traded them with some of his colleagues. Chapel denied these allegations, eventually suing Wynette for $37 million. But when it came to horrifying marriages, Chapel was only the tip of the iceberg.
23. Her Dreams Came True
In 1969, Tammy Wynette embarked on her third marriage—but it was the most tumultuous one yet. From the outside looking in, Wynette had achieved a life that once seemed impossible. Compared to the dilapidated home she shared with her first husband, her new 6,000-square-foot home in Florida seemed like a dream. But a big plantation house and successful career couldn’t save her from George Jones’s worst vices.
24. Her Husband Had Terrible Vices
Sadly, Jones was a heavy drinker—and it caused his behavior to swing out of control. No matter how hard he tried to give it up, he kept relapsing. This infuriated Wynette, and sometimes, she even tried to take matters into her own hands. To ensure that Jones didn’t get behind the wheel while intoxicated, she resorted to some extreme measures.
25. She Tried To Stop Him
Dealing with Jones’s drinking was an awful rollercoaster ride. She often hid his car keys—but on one occasion, that wasn’t enough to stop her husband from getting what he wanted. Jones simply grabbed the keys to the lawnmower and rode the vehicle into town. And what did he purchase? Well, more drinks of course. But there was an even darker side to his addiction.
26. She Watched Him Relapse
In the fall of 1970, George Jones went on a bender with chilling consequences. He ended up straitjacketed and placed in a padded cell to detoxify. He stayed for 10 days at the Watson Clinic. Sadly, this happened not long after the birth of Wynette and Jones’s only child. It was supposed to be a happy time for the family—but it marked the beginning of a truly difficult decade.
27. She Made Some Chilling Allegations
In her autobiography, Tammy Wynette made some shocking claims about George Jones. She claimed that—with a loaded rifle in hand—he chased her through the house. Jones would eventually deny these claims. At the time, however, their issues only kept mounting. In fact, it was about to get downright mysterious.
28. Her Husband Disappeared
Wynette’s frustration with her husband hit a new high after he began disappearing. Sometimes, his absence lasted days. It was always a stressful time when Jones went missing as Wynette would have to search for him. His erratic behavior worsened as the years wore on. Finally, in 1974, Jones disappeared after a recording session—and for Wynette, it was the last straw.
29. She Called It Quits
Tammy Wynette filed for divorce from George Jones, finalizing it in 1975. When the press caught wind of this shocking news, Wynette made a heartbreaking statement: "George is one of those people that can't tolerate happiness. If everything is right, there's something in him that makes him destroy it”. But there was also something bizarre about this break-up.
30. She Didn't Cut Ties
Despite their stormy marriage and separation, Wynette continued to play shows with Jones. In the years following their divorce, their music still kept audiences entranced—especially when the numbers started reflecting the country duo’s messy undoing. But sadly, a messy love life wasn’t the only thing Wynette struggled with. Behind closed doors, she had a secret affliction.
31. Her Health Took A Scary Turn
It all started in 1970 when Tammy Wynette had a hysterectomy. It was a surgery that led to the singer’s horrifying health problems. Afterward, she developed a serious infection that caused adhesions, which were a build-up of scar tissue. This also caused problems with her gall bladder that plagued her for the rest of her life. But that wasn’t the worst part.
32. She Became Addicted To Painkillers
Due to all these health complications, Tammy Wynette experience severe, chronic pain. She turned to painkillers to treat her awful symptoms. But this was a slippery slope. She began using Valium regularly, especially before her concerts. In addition, she kept developing adhesions which required multiple operations. Doctors prescribed her even more painkillers—and that’s when her addiction began spiraling out of control.
33. They Cut Her Off
At first, Wynette took Demerol to manage her stomach cramps, but also began taking them whether she was in pain or not. Soon, the Demerol stopped working, so she began using Demerol injections. However, her situation took a disturbing turn after her doctors stopped supplying prescriptions altogether. They knew she'd become addicted, but they didn’t realize how far she would go to get the meds her body craved.
34. She Couldn't Stop Using
Tammy Wynette was an addict through and through. She tracked down physicians throughout the US, who provided her with the prescriptions she needed. While on the road, she’d make her tour bus make overnight stops at hospitals just so she could get her hands more pain killers. So much of Wynette’s life revolved around pain during the 70s: physical and emotional.
And when it came to her personal life, Prince Charming alluded her at every turn.
35. Her Third Marriage Was A Mistake
Only a year after divorcing Jones, Wynette married again—this time, to real estate developer Michael Tomlin. She only dated him for a few weeks before tying the knot. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Though Tomlin was known for living the high life, many of Wynette’s friends claimed that his life was a lie.
36. Her Husband Was A Liar
Sure, Tomlin had a reputation for renting private jets and drinking expensive champagne—but he wasn’t what he seemed. According to Joan Dew, “It was all a façade. The furniture in his office was rented”. Not long after their honeymoon, Wynette and Tomlin’s marriage fell apart in a disturbing way.
37. She Left Him Immediately
According to Wynette, her fourth husband let money slip right through his fingers—he spent too much. There was even an incident where he terrified her children by firing some shots on the beach. Luckily, Wynette didn’t drag this dud around for longer than necessary. Only six weeks after saying “I do,” an annulment took place.
But Wynette was a magnet for drama—and the moment she escaped one scandal, another one waited to pounce.
38. She Had A Secret Fling
For a time, Tammy Wynette had a secret relationship with none other than Burt Reynolds. However, in 1977, the truth became public. Though their time together was relatively brief, it still managed to traumatize Wynette. You see, on one unforgettable occasion, the singer discovered Reynolds unconscious in her bathtub.
39. She Saved His Life
Luckily, Wynette ended up being the hero of this story. She rescued Reynolds from the tub before he could drown. Apparently, he had low blood sugar—but if not for Wynette, he may have met a watery end. But no amount of heroism could save this relationship. Reynolds just wasn’t ready for a commitment, so Wynette left him. Did she find someone better? Not at all.
40. She Had Terrible Taste In Men
In 1978, Tammy Wynette married her fifth and final husband, George Richey. He was a songwriter and producer and had even been responsible for some of Wynette’s music. But their relationship took a questionable turn after they tied the knot. First of all, Richey became Wynette’s full-time manager—and one of his first moves was disturbing.
41. Her Husband Was Controlling
The second Richey took control of Wynette, he decided to fire many of the women in her road crew. He reportedly said, “I cannot start a life with and build a relationship with Tammy and her girls when I'm livin' in a female dormitory”. Even more worrisome, he began to rule over the singer’s finances. Horrifyingly, the red flags kept popping up.
42. Her Daughters Didn't Approve
Wynette’s last marriage rocked the boat in more ways than one. According to her youngest daughter Georgette, Richey actively isolated Wynette from those closest to her. Georgette also claimed that Richey was the reason for her estrangement from her biological father, George Jones. Richey simply didn’t want her to be in contact with him.
Wynette’s family were not fans of Richey—and the allegations just kept coming.
43. Her Husband Enabled Her
Wynette’s older daughter Jackie blamed her mother’s fifth husband for enabling the singer’s worsening addiction problems. The public, however, saw a different side of all this. When facing the world, Wynette put on a happy face and insisted she adored Richey. Meanwhile, her friends and family had another story to tell.
44. She Regretted Marrying Him
Wynette’s loved ones claimed that she harbored some deep regrets about marrying Richey. Some even alleged that he was only ever after her money. Her daughter really summed up the whole debacle by saying, “It was an emotionally abusive relationship”. It was during this marriage that Wynette faced the biggest controversy of her life.
45. Someone Kidnapped Her
In 1978, a news report about Tammy Wynette shocked her fans: An unknown assailant had beaten and kidnapped the singer while she was shopping at a Nashville mall. Wynette claimed that the abductor had dumped her off outside of the city when he was through with his physical attacks on her. She was left with several bruises on her face, as well as a broken cheekbone. It was a terrifying incident—and then it took a twisted turn.
46. She Covered Up The Truth
While authorities investigated, the identity of the assailant was never discovered and the case was never officially solved. However, one of Wynette’s kids later revealed the dark truth. Her daughter Jackie Daly long had her suspicions about what happened, and in her memoir, she revealed that she thought Wynette made up the entire kidnapping story to cover up the fact that the bruises on her face were the result of her new husband’s beatings.
47. She Got Some Petty Revenge
Considering that marriage was never kind to Tammy Wynette, it’s nice to know that she got some petty revenge on at least one of her husbands. Remember her first shot at love? Euple Byrd? He never believed that Wynette would ever become a star. He even told her, “Dream on baby, dream on”. A decade later, she hit back with the best kind of revenge.
48. She Gave Him A Brutal Autograph
Long after they’d broken up, Byrd showed up at one of Wynette’s concerts. But when he requested her autograph, she the most brutal response imaginable. She gave him an autograph alright and it read, “Dream on, baby. Love, Tammy”. Wynette certainly achieved some of her dreams—but in the end, fate had a terrible twist in store for her.
49. She Could Never Escape Her Pain
According to Wynette, she endured over 30 operations. As a result, she could never overcome her addiction to painkillers, her health problems following her into the 90s. It all came to a heartbreaking climax.
Wynette suffered a severe health scare in 1993 following the Christmas holiday. She woke up in immense pain during the night and was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital.
50. Her Ex-Husband Still Cared
Wynette’s condition was so bad that she actually slipped into a coma for several days. Nevertheless, always a trooper, she recovered and continued touring almost immediately afterward. When Wynette’s ex-husband George Jones heard about her 1993 health scare, he became extremely concerned.
Although they had not spoken in years, something sparked his emotions and he rushed over to the hospital to pay her a visit as soon as he could, fearing the worst. From this point forward, the former couple rekindled their friendship and even recorded a reunion album together.
51. She Had A Tragically Short Life
Tragically, Tammy Wynette suddenly passed in 1998 while at home sleeping on her couch. She was only 55 years old. Her family desperately wanted an explanation as to what had caused her to lose her life. Doctors determined that the tragedy was likely the result of a blood clot in her lung, though many questions remained unanswered.
52. Her Children Sued
Given the mysterious circumstances of Wynette’s passing, her children were not so quick to let their questions go. They sued her husband, George Richey, and claimed that his mistreatment of their mother was the cause of her sudden passing. In 1999, they had Wynette’s body exhumed and reexamined for new information. The authorities determined that cardiac arrhythmia had been the true cause of the tragedy.
53. Her Signature Song Was A Massive Hit
The biggest breakthrough in Wynette’s career came in 1968 when she recorded what would become her signature song, “Stand by Your Man.” The song was an enormous hit and remains well-known to this day. This song was the only one in Wynette’s career that was a hit not only on the country charts but also on the pop charts. It would later be voted the greatest country song of all time by CMT.
54. She Didn’t Expect Much
Despite all the success it would reach, “Stand by Your Man” was not initially intended to be anything special. Wynette and Sherrill wrote the song from start to finish in less than 15 minutes, and Wynette didn’t even like it at first! She particularly disliked the high note she had to sing—the very one that would help make the song a timeless classic.
55. Not Everyone Liked Her Song
Although “Stand by Your Man” was an enormous hit, it was also the source of some major controversy. The song came out at the height of the feminist movement in the late 1960s, and many people criticized it. They thought that it encouraged women to be subservient to their husbands. Wynette stood up for herself and disputed these attacks, insisting that the song was simply “a pretty little love song”.
56. Only One Man Stood By Her
The man to whom she is forever tied in the public’s mind, George Jones, continued to mourn Wynette’s loss for years. Even though their relationship had been extremely rocky and short-lived, and even though they went years without speaking, he expressed deep sorrow when she passed, as well as gratitude for their renewed friendship in her later years.
If that doesn’t sound like a story straight out of a country song, I don’t know what does!