Singer-Songwriter John Prine, 73, Dies From COVID-19 Complications

The acclaimed songwriter was from west suburban Maywood.

WBBM Newsradio Staff
April 07, 2020 - 8:38 pm
John Prine

John Prine (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

(WBBM NEWSRADIO/AP) -- Influential folk-country musician John Prine, a Maywood native who worked as a mailman before finding fame as a singer-songwriter in the early-1970s, has died of COVID-19 complications.

The Grammy-winning artist was 73. 

His family announced his death from complications from the coronavirus; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Late last month, Prine's family announced the musician was in grave condition and on a ventilator with COVID-19-like symptoms.  His wife and manager Fiona Whelan Prine had also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but has since recovered. Prine was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms, put on a ventilator and remained in the intensive care unit for several days.

Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice roughened by a hard-luck life, particularly after throat cancer left him with a disfigured jaw. Prine most recently battled lung cancer less than a decade ago. He continued to make music and tour and found new generations of admirers. 

He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humor brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.

In 2017, Rolling Stone proclaimed him “The Mark Twain of American songwriting.”

Prine began playing as a young Army veteran who invented songs to fight boredom while delivering the U.S. mail in Maywood, Illinois. He and his friend, folk singer Steve Goodman, were still polishing their skills at the Old Town School of Folk Music when Kristofferson, a rising star at the time, heard them sing one night in Chicago, and invited them to share his stage in New York City. The late film critic Roger Ebert, then with the Chicago Sun-Times, also saw one of his shows and declared him an “extraordinary new composer.”

"He appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight. He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn't show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you," Ebert wrote in a column titled SINGING MAILMAN WHO DELIVERS A POWERFUL MESSAGE IN A FEW WORDS, a piece that is considered the musician's first formal review.

Suddenly noticed by America’s most popular folk, rock and country singers, Prine signed with Atlantic Records and released his first album in 1971.

“I was really into writing about characters, givin’ ‘em names,” Prine said, reminiscing about his long career in a January 2016 public television interview that was posted on his website.

Prine's eponymous debut album contained some of his hallmark songs, such as "Sam Stone," "Angel from Montgomery," and "Hello in There." These detailed narratives of working-class and sometimes tragic figures -- considered classics of the genre -- were sung in Prine's raspy voice and often backed by his fingerpicked guitar.

Among his admirers were Kris Kristofferson,  who helped discover Prine, and Bob Dylan.