Country singer Luke Bell, whose music evoked the early days of the genre's history, was found dead on Aug. 29, nine days after he was last seen in Tucson, Arizona. His cause of death is unknown, although the singer battled with bipolar disorder for years and he had disappeared in the past.
Bell was reported missing in Tucson on Aug. 20. He was found not far from where he was last seen, his close friend Matt Kinman told Saving Country Music. His cause of death is pending an autopsy. "Luke fought this as hard as he could, but the disease got the better of him," Bell's manager, Brian Buchanan, told TMZ. "When he was beating the disease, he was the sweetest and most generous guy. He's found peace now and there's some comfort."
Bell was recently visiting his hometown of Cody, Wyoming with Kinman, who had been performing and caring for the singer for the past six years. Kinman told Saving Country Music over the weekend that he and Bell, who suffers from bipolar disorder, went to Arizona to work and play there. "He just took off," Kinman said. "He was in the back of the truck. I went in to get something to eat. I came out, and he'd got out of the truck and left."
This was not the first time Bell disappeared, but his manager Brian Buchanan said he had been improving in the last year and a half. Kinman suspected a recent change in his friend's medication was linked to his disappearance. "He could be in Tucson. But it's possible he jumped a freight train, and who knows where he's going," Kinman said. "If someone sees him, get him to a hospital immediately, get a hold of me, and we'll come after him."
Bell was born in Lexington, Kentucky on Jan. 27, 1990, and grew up in Cody. After briefly attending college, Bell decided to focus exclusively on music. He met singer/songwriter Pat Reedy, who introduced him to life on the road.
In 2011, Bell found himself in Austin, where he honed his chops and led a rock and roll band. He turned to a more honky tonk style and left rock and roll behind by the time he reached Nashville. Once in Music City, he recorded the album Don't Mind If I Do, which Bandcamp released in 2014. The record and Bell's constant performance drew attention from WME and suddenly he was opening for Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Dwight Yoakim, and others.
In 2016, Bell signed a deal with Thirty Tigers and planned to release a self-titled album featuring new songs and the best tracks from Don't Mind If I Do. There were also plans for him to tour in the fall of 2016 to promote the album, but the tour never happened. Bell began working with Kinman in 2017 and appeared at the 2018 Ameripolitan Awards in Memphis.
After 2018, Bell mostly retreated from the public eye. He hid his battle with bipolar disorder and traveled the country on his own. "Stories would surface of unruly behavior, right beside ones about how Luke Bell could be the sweetest person you could meet. Some friends were forced to distance from him," Saving Country Music notes.0comments
There were long periods of time when no one would hear from Bell, but Kinman told Saving Country Music he was doing better recently. He performed with Kinman on live streams. In January 2021, he released one last single, "Jealous Guy." Sadly, his mental state took a turn for the worse before he went missing.
After the news broke, the country music community mourned Bell's death. "Word just came down on the passing of Luke Bell and we're heartbroken over the news," the band Mike and the Moonpies wrote on Facebook. "I can vividly remember the first time I met Luke at Hole in the Wall over a decade ago, down to the clothes on his back. The man (and his music) left an impression. He was a real deal traveling troubadour out there on that lost highway. Do yourself a favor and put on some Luke Bell tunes tonight in his memory. Rest In Peace, friend."