By the summer of 1952, Hank Williams had lost his contract with MGM Studios, been booted out of the Grand Ole Opry and watched his marriage go down in flames. But he never lost his fans.

A week after his firing, Hank released “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” a song that would become both a hit and a beloved, enduring classic.

In his brief life, Hank became one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th century, paving the way for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and more.

Born with a birth defect, congenital spina bifida, Hank turned to alcohol, drugs and, most of all, music to assuage his pain.

“He was a poor, uneducated kid growing up in rural Alabama,” says Don Cusic, author of Hank Williams: The Singer and the Songs. “But he had a God-given talent to sing.”

The son of a PTSD-suffering World War I veteran, Hank was raised by his mother, Lillie, to whom he was deeply devoted. Hank grew up listening to the radio, and he learned to play guitar “from an old colored man in the streets of Montgomery,” he said.

He began writing personal and honest songs — the first called “Back Ache Blues,” about his chronic pain. Lillie drove him to gigs, and by age 14, Hank was performing on the radio.

At 21, he married singer-turned-manager Audrey Sheppard, but Cusic says, “It was [like] two boxers without gloves.” They had a son, Hank Jr., and Hank’s career took off with songs like “Lovesick Blues” — earning him entry to the Grand Ole Opry — and “Cold, Cold Heart,” reportedly about Audrey.

Despite everything, family meant a lot to Hank. On Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings, he’s heard promising his son between songs that he’ll be home for breakfast to “sop biscuits” with him.

“He was always very affectionate [to his kids],” Susan Masino, author of Family Tradition: Three Generations of Hank Williams, tells Closer. “When he was at home, he was a full-time dad.”

But he wasn’t home very often, and Hank’s alcoholism worsened after a 1951 back surgery. A former San Quentin prison inmate “who passed himself off as a doctor,” Masino says, got Hank hooked on chloral hydrate, a powerful sedative.

The following year, he had an affair with dancer Bobbie Jett that resulted in a daughter, Jett, and Hank and Audrey divorced.

He was soon married again to singer Billie Jean Jones, but even as he continued to write hits, like the posthumously released “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” his life was ebbing away.

“He should have been in the hospital,” Masino says, “instead of putting him in a car saying, ‘Hey, you need to make it to West Virginia from Ohio in three days.’”

On New Year’s Eve 1952, Hank died at age 29 in the back seat of a Cadillac as he was being driven to his next gig. The world lost a performer who had lived hard, but who understood the power of music: “If you’re gonna sing,” Hank said, “sing ’em something they can understand.”

His pain and passion still come through in the music. “When I hear my dad sing, it sounds like his life depends on it,” says Jett. “You feel as if he’s singing that song just to you.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).