Charles Carr, who was just 18 and a college freshman when he drove country music legend Hank Williams on his final journey more than 60 years ago, died July 1 after a brief illness. He was 79.
His death was confirmed by Beth Petty, director of the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Ala.
“When he was younger, he didn’t have an interest in being defined by that moment in his life,” said his son, Charles “Lands” Carr. But after the museum embraced the elder Carr later in life, he became more comfortable talking about the last days of Williams, who died during the car trip at 29.
The elder Carr was a friend of the Williams family and found himself behind the wheel after the singer hired him to drive him from Montgomery to a New Year’s Eve show in Charleston, W.Va., and then to another concert scheduled for Jan. 1, 1953, in Canton, Ohio.
“I had known Hank most of my life,” Carr, then a Montgomery businessman, told the Tennessean newspaper of Nashville in 2003. At the time, his father ran a taxi service.
“My dad looked after him after he became a star, and Hank never forgot that,” his son recalled.
Carr agreed to chauffeur Williams in the singer’s pale-blue 1952 Cadillac because the income would help Carr pay for college. Had he known what would unfold, “I would not have made the trip,” he said in the interview.
Before they hit the road on Dec. 30, Williams took a shot of morphine to ease his back pain, according to a 2003 examination of the singer’s death by the Tennessean. He also was carrying chloral hydrate, a sleep aid that can slow the heart.
They had planned to fly from Knoxville, Tenn., to Charleston, but poor weather canceled the flight and Williams canceled the concert. At a Knoxville hotel, Williams summoned a doctor and received two more morphine shots along with some vitamin B12, the newspaper reported.
About 11 p.m., they headed out to make the 500-mile drive to Canton. At some point during the trip, Carr reached back to put a blanket on a sleeping Williams. “When I lifted his hand I felt resistance, and I knew there was a problem,” he told the Tennessean in 2002.
He drove to a nearby hospital, where the singer was pronounced dead. Heart failure was given as the cause.
“I called my dad and told him what happened, and then Hank’s mother called me at the hospital,” Carr told the newspaper. “One of the parting things she said was: ‘Don’t let anything happen to the car.”’
Born March 23, 1934, Carr lived most of his life in Montgomery. He attended Auburn University in Alabama and served in the Army in Europe.
He had a framed poster promoting the concert that he and Williams never made it to and kept a pair of cowhide gloves that the singer had given him on that final trip, the Houston Chronicle reported in 2002.
The Cadillac became a centerpiece of the Hank Williams Museum, where Carr “was always kind to fans of Hank,” said Perry, the museum director.
An early marriage ended in divorce. Carr later married Jeannine King Carr, who survives him.
In addition to his wife and son Charles, his survivors include stepchildren Jennifer King and Donald King; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Another son, Scott Carr, died in 2005.