Originally created 03/14/03

Ramblin' Rhodes: Country legend's final days recalled

The phone rang last week, and it was Charlie Dick, calling me back on the 40th anniversary of the plane crash that killed his wife, singer Patsy Cline.

"I've got radio stations running out of my ears," Mr. Dick said in response to the voice-mail message I left at his house near Nashville, Tenn. "I've already gotten calls this morning from Kansas, Alabama and Pennsylvania, and I've got another station to call before this guy gets off the air at noon.

"And WSM (the Nashville radio station that's home to the Grand Ole Opry) is doing a five-hour tribute, and I'll be there for some of it."

It was March 5, 1963, when a single-engine, four-seater Piper Comanche crashed into a hill near Camden, Tenn. Besides Miss Cline, the crash also took the lives of fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins and pilot Randy Hughes, who also was Miss Cline's personal manager and Mr. Copas' son-in-law.

Mr. Dick and his wife had flown with Mr. Hughes to Birmingham, Ala., on the morning of Saturday, March 2.

In Birmingham, Miss Cline was part of three shows that also featured Tex Ritter, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and Mel Tillis. She was paid $1,000. Her biggest payday ever was $1,200 for a rock show in Ozark, Ala., with Roy Orbison and Bobby Vee.

The next morning, Sunday, March 3, Mr. Dick and Miss Cline flew with Mr. Hughes back to Nashville.

The three got out long enough to refuel the plane and for Miss Cline and Mr. Hughes to stretch a bit before flying on to Kansas City, Kan.

Mr. Dick didn't go because Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas got on the plane; taking Mr. Dick's seat and the other passenger seat. It is probable that had only one of the performers shown up that morning, Mr. Dick would have gone on to Kansas City.

Miss Cline, Mr. Copas and Mr. Hawkins joined other Opry stars in Kansas City for three benefit performances for a popular country music disc jockey who had been killed in a traffic accident.

They couldn't fly out on Monday, March 4, because of bad weather and returned to their hotel, where Miss Cline made her last phone call to Mr. Dick, who was in Nashville with their two children.

The next morning, the plane finally headed back to Nashville. It made its last scheduled stop at the Dyersburg (Tenn.) Municipal Airport for refueling at about 5 p.m. They were almost home. Less than an hour later, all four were dead in the crash.

"It doesn't bother me to read about the crash as long as it is facts," Mr. Dick said. He was perturbed by the comments of a broadcast reporter one night on cable's CMT.

"He supposedly was the first reporter on the (crash) scene. He said the bodies were tore up so bad, they had to put them in bags and sort them out later. I hate for our kids to hear that kind of talk about their mother."

NEXT WEEK: Mr. Dick remembers some of his wife's shows and reveals whom he thinks sounds the closest to Miss Cline.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 32 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.


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