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Remembering The Death Of Townes Van Zandt And His Wild, Heartbreaking Life

Townes Van Zandt Death

On New Year’s Day in 1997, Townes Van Zandt died at his home in Smyrna, Texas, with friends and family nearby. A spokeswoman for Sugar Hill, the music label for which he recorded, revealed the cause was apparently a heart attack.

The Fort Worth native broke his hip a week earlier and had just returned home to recuperate from surgery. However, his son noticed that Van Zandt had stopped breathing and “looked dead.” His wife, Jeanene, quickly rushed into the room – sadly, the singer-songwriter was already gone. He was 52. 

Not Surprisingly, Townes Van Zandt’s Life Was Quite Rocky

Townes Van Zandt songs are dark and tragic – and they often mirrored his own life. 

The critically acclaimed American singer-songwriter actually had some serious struggles from a young age. He started to suffer mental breakdowns during his youth and college years, which doctors diagnosed as bipolar disorder and manic depression. He endured invasive treatments for those conditions, including the now-debunked insulin shock therapy that apparently erased most of his memory.

Eventually, he suffered from a series of drug addictions and alcoholism throughout his adult life. He was hardly ever in a good voice due to too much drinking and lack of sleep. He would even become drunk on stage and fail to remember the lyrics to his songs. At different points, his friends would see him shooting up not just heroin but also cocaine.

RELATED: Here Some Random Facts About Townes Van Zandt Within His Brief But Colorful Career

In 1994, he was hospitalized for alcohol detoxification, but the doctor noted that doing it again could possibly kill him. Regretfully, Van Zandt grew frailer and frailer during the mid-1990s.

Still, Townes Van Zandt was the most influential Texas songwriter of his time, for better and worse. His country ballads managed to rise above his boundaries. He remains today a cult artist celebrated by peers and devoted fans.