Beloved country singer and songwriter John Prine died on Tuesday after contracting the coronavirus. Prine was hospitalized on March 26 after coming down with COVID-19 symptoms and was intubated on March 28. Prine, whose legendary music career began in the early 1970s, was 73. His death was confirmed to Rolling Stone by his family.
On March 19, Prine's wife, Fiona, revealed she tested positive for the coronavirus and issued a strong warning to fans to stay home during the crisis to help slow the spread. Ten days later, on March 29, Fiona shared a statement confirming Prine himself began showing symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
"After a sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms, John was hospitalized on Thursday (3/26). He was intubated Saturday evening, and continues to receive care, but his situation is critical," Fiona wrote at the time. "This is hard news for us to share. But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years,we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send more of that love and support now. And know that we love you, and John loves you."
Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois on Oct. 10, 1946 and began playing guitar at age 14. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War era, and station in Germany. During the late 1960s, while still working as a mailman, he began establishing himself as a performer in Chicago. In 1971, Prine released his self-titled debut album, which includes his beloved songs "Sam Stone," "Paradise," "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" and "Angel From Montgomery." Prine quickly became known as a great songwriter in the music community, with Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan among his fans. The public was catching on too as the '70s continued. In 1975, his album Common Sense became his first album to chart in Billboard. Throughout the rest of the decade, he continued releasing albums to acclaim from fans and critics.
"I had a difficult time listening back to them because I was so nervous," Prine said of his early career in a 2018 NPR interview. "I was kind of thrown into - I didn't expect to do this for a living, being a recording artist. I was just playing music for the fun of it and writing songs. That was kind of my escape, you know, from the humdrum of the world. And everything happened so fast for me. I became a recording artist before I knew it."
Prine never stopped performing and recording. In 2018, he released his first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness, which earned critical acclaim. The album charted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the highest rank ever in his career. The album featured collaborations with Dan Auerbach, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell and Pat McLaughlin.
The singer faced several health challenges during his later career. In 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on his neck, which required major surgery and radiation therapy. He needed a piece of his neck and some tongue nerves removed, and could not perform for a year while recuperating. In 2013, he was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung, which was removed. He missed six months of touring. In February 2020, Prine had to miss several tour dates after aggravating a hip injury.
Last year, Prine told Billboard he was working on two albums. One was an album of originals he planned to release in 2021, and the second was a collection of songs written by Steve Goodman.
Prine earned several awards throughout his life, and joined the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019. He won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album twice, for The Missing Years (1991) and Fair & Square (2005). In 2020, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
"When I get up in the morning, I'm 9 years old between my ears," Prine told Billboard last year. "I'm not a 72-year-old man until I get in front of a mirror."
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