Nothing is going to break Loretta Lynn’s spirit or keep her from her fans. Having suffered a fractured hip on New Year’s Day, the country legend was feeling better and back to her feisty self in less than a week. “Memaw is a rock star. Never underestimate her,” granddaughter Tayla Lynn exclusively tells Closer Weekly, adding, “She’s doing amazing! She’s so tough. A little slip ain’t gonna get her down.” Adds a trusted family friend to Closer, “Loretta’s undergoing therapy at her house, and they’re saying she should be ready to go on tour come May!”
These updates about the resilience of the coal miner’s daughter is music to everyone’s ears, and the “Fist City” singer’s been hell-bent on getting back into fighting shape so she can head out on the road. “When they lay me down six feet under, then they can say, ‘Loretta’s quit singing,’” she quips of how much being able to perform in front of live audiences still means to her at 85. Having been sidelined since last May due to a debilitating stroke, Loretta has been especially frustrated by this latest setback, but her passion for life is as strong as ever.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“Her recovery from the stroke was definitely a miracle, and the love from her fans keeps her fighting. It’s what pulls her through every time,” the friend explains, offering even more good news about the singer’s condition. “She’s excited to get back to work. Her voice is still there and it’s as strong as ever. She hasn’t lost a note!” Her indomitable drive is firmly intact as well. “As long as I’m on this earth,” Loretta insists, “I will try to be on top somewhere. I’m not going to sit back and let somebody else take over the writing and the singing!”
It’s not surprising, then, that she pushed herself to be as prolific as ever with her songwriting, even as she dealt with all her recent health struggles. “Loretta is still writing songs. She writes all the time,” the friend reports, noting her soon-to-be-released album, Wouldn’t It Be Great, has been completed for a while. “She didn’t want to release it without being able to support it [by touring], but it was done last year. And she’s got others in the works, too!”
Loretta and her late husband Oliver.
Once Loretta’s career took off in 1960, it was hard for her to slow down. “Singing was easy. Life was hard,” she jokes about growing up the second of eight children in humble Butcher Holler, KY. In her 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta wrote she was just 13 when she married 21-year-old Oliver “Doolittle” Mooney. (A birth certificate found in 2012 by the Associated Press showed she was 16, though Loretta has not commented on the discrepancy.) The couple soon moved to Washington, and Loretta had four kids of her own by the time she was 24. When Doo gave his wife a $17 guitar and challenged her to give music a go, Loretta wrote her first song in just 20 minutes.
“I was leaning up against the old toilet out there on the West Coast,” she recalls with a laugh of her not-so-glamorous foray into songwriting. She kept plenty busy as she honed her craft. “Me and my husband both worked,” she says. “I took care of the farmhouse, and cleaned, and cooked for 36 ranch hands.” After early hits like “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” and “Wine, Women, and Song” started winning her fans and critical acclaim, she put cooking duties behind her.
Loretta in 1962. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
“I thought, gee whiz! This was an easy job,” she says of earning her way as a singer. In 1966, she scored her first No. 1 hit, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” marking the first time a chart-topping country song was written by a woman. Her down-home style and straight-shooting, fearless lyrics, like in “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” were often inspired by her own life, something that further endeared her to audiences.
“She really revolutionized country music at the time,” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum editor Michael McCall tells Closer. “Early in her career, some people wanted her to get slicker, wear high heels, and not use words like ‘ain’t’ or ‘holler,’” he explains. “They wanted her to be more cosmopolitan. But [producer] Owen Bradley told her, ‘Be yourself,’ and she put the same language she used while talking into her songs.” With Loretta, what you see is what you get.
“She’s the most real person you’ll ever meet,” Michael promises. “There’s no filter between who she is and how she presents herself.” That’s why she never shielded away from calling Doo out through the years in certain songs, like “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’,” for example, in which she vented some frustration. “If a man drinks, he’s going to come home drinking. He liked to drink,” she says. Through 48 years of marital ups and downs, though, Doo remained her one and only true love. “If I write a song, he’s in there somewhere,” Loretta says of her husband, who passed in 1996.
Another thing Loretta never backed away from was tackling controversial subjects in her music. She sang the praises of birth control in 1975’s “The Pill,” just a few years after she playfully griped about being saddled with a houseful of kids in “One’s on the Way” in 1971. “You can call me your number one, you know what kind of stirrer. Always stirring stuff,” Loretta notes. “Women were kind of held down,” she says of old limits placed on female artists. And she was determined to sing about whatever she wanted.
Loretta performing at the CMAs in 2016.
“But everything I sang about was everyday living,” she points out, and her warts-and-all approach to her songwriting continues to influence both male and female artists today. “There’s no one like Loretta,” Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Brandy Clark, 42, tells Closer. “Her music’s completely autobiographical and she’s lived such a rich and interesting life. What I take from her is to tell your truth.”
And when three-time CMA Entertainer of the Year Alan Jackson, 59, was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last October, he wanted nobody but Loretta to do the honors. “She was the first woman to receive the Entertainer of the Year award [in 1972],” Michael notes, “and Alan thinks she showed everybody how to write about their life. He counts her, Hank Williams, and Merle Haggard as his heroes, so it was really important to him” to have her there. That induction came just five months after Loretta’s stroke, yet she rallied for her protégé. “He’s the only one who could bring me here,” she said as she made her triumphant return to the public eye. Alan was thrilled. “Well, Loretta Lynn said I should be here [in the Hall of Fame],” he gushed. “That’s all I needed to hear!”
Alan and Loretta at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Family has always meant everything to Loretta. “Her children have been her greatest support system. They all live near her,” the friend says, and her 53-year-old twins, Patsy and Peggy, have helped her emotionally and professionally as well. “My daughter Patsy, she manages me and she takes care of me,” Loretta says. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.” Patsy even served as co-producer on Wouldn’t It Be Great (along with Johnny and June Carter Cash’s son, John Carter Cash). “This record deserves me at my best and I can’t wait to share it,” she says. It’s been her goal to promote it with a new tour, tentatively scheduled for the summer.
Endless support from her fans this past year has been transformative and healing. “Loretta says she can literally feel the power they’re giving her. They’re the reason she’s here, the reason she is who she is,” Loretta’s grandson Anthony Brutto says.
“It’s amazing to see the will and fire she has inside.” Also giving her strength? “God,” says granddaughter Tayla. “And let’s not forget her new little puppy she affectionately called Bimbo.” Maybe the only one not surprised by Loretta’s recovery is Loretta. “I can outwork any 26-year-old under the table,” she says, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Nashville who would argue with her.
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