Influential Nashville singer-songwriter John Prine has died after being hospitalized with COVID-19. His publicist confirmed the news to NPR Monday night.
Prine was 73, and although age and his medical history put him at high risk for complications from COVID-19, he’d remained extremely active until a few weeks ago. Prine overcame cancer twice, was still touring and was having one of the most successful periods of his career. His 2018 album the Tree of Forgiveness earned three Grammy nominations.
Earlier this year Prine was given the Grammys’ Lifetime Achievement award. It recognized his solo work and the hits he had with others like Bonnie Raitt, whose version of “Angel From Montgomery” helped turn the song into a standard.
Prine was a native of Illinois and began his musical career at a moonlighting mailman in the late 1960s in the Chicago area, where he was friends with the songwriter Steve Goodman and his fans included critic Roger Ebert. It was there that Prine was discovered by Kris Kristofferson and signed to his deal with a major record label. They promoted him as “the next Bob Dylan.”
In the 70’s Prine was beloved by critics and respected by other performers, including Bette Midler who covered “Hello in There.” Outlaw country artist David Allen Coe had a hit with “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” though Prine refused to out his name on it, instead giving full credit to his cowriter, Goodman.
Despite being nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, his solo records didn’t break through commercially, and Prine chaffed at what he saw as exploitation in the industry. So in the 1980’s, he moved to Nashville and formed his own label, Oh Boy Records. His 1991 album “The Missing Years” would win the first of two Grammys or Best Contemporary Folk Album, with the second coming in 2005.
By then, Prine had battled squamous cell cancer on his neck, a condition that altered his voice. He would beat lung cancer 15 years later in 2013 and hit the road again. In 2018, he was nominated for three Grammys in the Americana category.
Last month, his wife, Fiona Whelan Prine, came down with the coronavirus after the two completed a European tour. She tried to keep separate from her husband while recuperating at home, but a week later Prine was hospitalized after developing symptoms. His wife recovered, but Prine continued to decline and, after nearly two weeks in the intensive care unit, passed away.