Charlie Rich Biography

Singer, Pianist, Guitarist (1932–1995)
Musician Charlie Rich had several No. 1 country songs in the 1970s, including "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl."


Charlie Rich was born on December 14, 1932, in Colt, Arkansas. He recorded his own single, "Lonely Weekends," in 1960. His peak came in 1973 with "The Most Beautiful Girl," a single that sold 1 million copies. In the late 1970s, he wrote soundtracks. By 1981 he had all but retired. He released a comeback album, Pictures and Paintings, in 1992. On July 25, 1995, he died suddenly in Hammond, Louisiana.

Early Career

Musician Charlie Rich was born on December 14, 1932, in Colt, Arkansas, as the son of music-loving rural cotton farmers. Charlie Rich briefly studied music at the University of Arkansas before quitting school to join the United States Air Force. He married his high school sweetheart, Margaret Ann, with whom he raised two sons and two daughters over their 43 years of marriage.

Rich formed his first band while stationed in Oklahoma with the Air Force. The Velvetones were a blues and jazz group featuring Rich's wife, Margaret Ann, as the lead singer. After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Rich moved the family to the musical hotbed of Memphis, where Rich spent the next few years touring local clubs and writing his own songs. While touring, Rich became friends with singer Bill Justis, an artist on the iconic Sun Records label who lent Rich some Jerry Lee Lewis albums. Rich was blown away by the sound. He managed to get himself signed with Sun as a studio musician, where he played piano and sang back-up vocals for artists including Lewis, Justis, Carl Mann and Johnny Cash. "At first I didn't dig country. As a matter of fact, we put it down because we wanted to be jazz pickers," Rich said. "I had to make a drastic change at Sun Records and I didn't really appreciate country music until I went there."

Rich then recorded his own single, "Lonely Weekends," which reached No. 22 on the charts in 1960. He moved to Groove Records in 1964, where he recorded the hit underground single "Big Boss Man." Subsequent albums flopped, and when Groove went out of business in 1965, Rich was left with no contract. He bounced between labels and musical styles, experimenting with everything from boogie-woogie to honky-tonk.

Commercial Success

He found his musical comfort zone in 1968 with Epic Records producer Bill Sherrill, who worked with Rich to create the smooth, ballad-friendly sound that would make him famous. Known as the "Silver Fox" for his prematurely gray hair, Rich enjoyed a streak of commercial success in the 1970s. He had nine No. 1 country singles, including "There Won't Be Anymore," "A Very Special Love Song," "I Don't See Me in Your Eyes Anymore" and "Behind Closed Doors," which sold 1 million copies.

Charlie Rich's peak came in 1973 with "The Most Beautiful Girl," a single that sold 1 million copies and spent weeks atop both the pop and country charts. Rich picked up three Country Music Association Awards for the song and its accompanying LP, along with one Grammy, and four ACM trophies.

Personal Issues

Commercial success came at a considerable personal price for Charlie Rich. His drinking and resulting bad behavior had spiraled out of control. His behavior came to a head in a shocking on-stage meltdown at the 1975 Country Music Awards, where instead of presenting the Entertainer of the Year award to its winner - John Denver - he lit the card announcing Denver's win on fire in front of an outraged audience. Rich's personal crisis, combined with waning interest in his country-balladeer sound, soon left him without a record label or much of a fan base.

In the late 1970s, a humbled Rich wrote soundtracks for several Benji movies and the 1978 Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way but Loose. By 1981, Rich had all but retired, retreating from the spotlight to restore his health and personal life. "I just settled back in and figured out what to do," he later told a reporter. "A couple things I kind of wanted to do, like raising my family, I'd been putting off. I just decided that it might be the best thing to do."

Sudden Death

In 1992, Rich released a comeback album called Pictures and Paintings. The well-received record would be his last. On July 25, 1995, Rich died suddenly of a blood clot in his lungs. He was staying at a Louisiana motel with his wife while en route to a gig. Music-industry colleagues eulogized the passing of a man they remembered for his big heart and big sound. "Charlie Rich had the intuitive instinct to feel, see and hear pain, disappointment, happiness and joy and somehow transmute it into music," said Sam Phillips, the legendary founder of Sun Records. "I don't know anyone who has ever written or sung in a way that depicted more of the humanity of man, with greater melodic beauty, than Charlie Rich."

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