Whether he’s singing his hit country songs like “All My Friends Say” or “Knockin’ Boots," Luke Bryan is always the epitome of joviality. But the singer's had to endure the most horrific of family tragedies, time and time again.
But through all the heartache, Bryan has maintained a positive spirit and outlook, finding the light in dark times — and even using them to fill his life with even more love, by expanding his family through the adoption of his nieces and nephew.
When he was a teenager, Bryan’s brother was killed in a car accident
Growing up on a farm in Georgia, Bryan was the youngest of three in a tight-knit family, proud of his country roots. “I was raised in a small town with parents that — when I wasn’t acting right — they reeled me back in,” he told Robin Roberts in a 2017 ABC News special. “Everybody knew everybody and it was a magical little small-town life.”
Despite loving that lifestyle, Bryan had his eyes on a music career — and was making plans to try to break into the business in Tennessee. But as he was about to leave, the unthinkable happened.
“Just before I moved to Nashville, my brother was killed in a car accident,” Bryan recalled. “That totally derailed and postponed my Nashville plans.”
Bryan was just 19 and stayed home to grieve with his family, but ultimately his father gave him a push. “My dad could tell I was one foot in the door, one foot out the door,” he said. “He was really really adamant about me chasing my dreams just based on what we had dealt with my brother. We had seen how fragile life was.”
With his musical success, came another family tragedy
With that extra dose of drive, Bryan packed his bags and soon found himself writing songs on Music Row for record executives. “Next thing you know, I’m getting a record deal from Capitol Records,” Bryan recalled.
Success came quickly and on April 6, 2007, he was playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time — and of course, his older sister, Kelly, came to see her baby brother make his big debut.
“That night, little did I know it would be our last photo together,” Bryan said. She passed away a month later — of a mysterious illness that was never identified — leaving his brother in law, Ben Lee Cheshire, raising their three children.
In 2015, Bryan and his wife adopted his nieces and nephew
Seven years later over Thanksgiving weekend of 2014, yet another tragedy struck. Cheshire passed away, leaving Jordan, then 20, Kris, then 16, and Til, then 13, parentless.
Without skipping a beat, Bryan and his wife, Caroline, stepped in and adopted their nieces and nephew. They joined the couple's own sons, Tatum “Tate” Christopher, then six, and Thomas “Bo” Boyer, then four, expanding their family to a group of seven.
“Now we have three children that have lost both their parents, so that becomes our new focus, to try to navigate and guide them through this life,” Bryan explained.
While it was an adjustment for everyone, there was no doubt that their nieces and nephew belonged in their family. "We never thought twice about it,” wife Caroline told Roberts. “We just did it.”
“Bo went from being kind of the alpha male to being the middle child, but he takes it in stride,” Bryan told People in a 2015 interview. “It’s been amazing watching them do so well with it. They treat Til like their brother, and Til does the same. And that’s what’s funny, is Til went from being the baby of his family to being the oldest. It’s definitely been a social experiment.”
The shift in familial roles eventually fell into place and the benefits of the new union soon shone. “They’re becoming better athletes because Til gets to play with them,” Bryan continued. “When I come home, they’re throwing the baseball a little farther and hitting the ball a little harder. I know that’s ‘cause Til’s been out in the yard with them.”
Being sudden parents of teenagers took some adjustment
His nieces Jordan and Kris were soon off to college and living on their own, but becoming a father figure to teenage Til fast-forwarded Bryan’s parenting skills.
“It kind of just happened and I woke up one day and I’m raising a teen,” he told People in 2017. “And it’s a challenge because my main thing with Til is just properly giving the right amount of advice and realizing you’re talking to someone who is becoming an adult. I have to be that parent role where if he does something, he needs to get in trouble, but I want to be a friend to him too.”
Despite the challenging balance, Bryan considers Til one of his own. “My boys are amazing and great and perfect and precious,” he said. “But I can’t wrestle with [Til] anymore because he can throw me around pretty good. And Bo and Tate are into Nerf guns and fishing and the outdoors — all my boys are. I’ve brainwashed them quite well!”
Wife Caroline admitted that now they’re navigating the world of dating with Til. “[He] is so cute. My God, he’s 17 and 6 foot 4, he's so cute. It's good, but he's never juggled a bunch of girls at once. He doesn't do that. He's sweet.”
The hard times have taught Bryan to stop and smell the roses 'a little bit more'
Together, the expanded family pushes through the hurt. “You keep going and you try to be as positive as you can,” Bryan told Roberts about dealing with the untimely family deaths. “You try to appreciate every day.”
“I've watched my family go through ebbs and flows where we get mad at God and we get mad at why this has happened,” he told People. “You'll never get back to 100 percent. You'll always be working to get back to 75 percent.”
While he’s dedicated most of his recent years to music, he admits that the realities of the situations have given him a serious dose of prioritizing what’s important in life, adding that in the next decade, “you’ll also notice me stopping and smelling some roses a little bit more.”
“Obviously my nieces and nephew, they didn’t ask for this,” Bryan said. “Their life was amazing before Caroline and I took a more prominent role, even after losing their mother. Now my focus is trying to do what we can to help them."
A&E will premiere a two-part definitive documentary highlighting the prolific career of Garth Brooks, the best-selling solo artist of all time. Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On will premiere over two consecutive nights Monday, December 2 and Tuesday, December 3 at 9 pm ET/PT on A&E. The documentary offers an intimate look into Brooks’ life as a musician, father, and man as well as the moments that have defined his decade-spanning career and essential hit songs.