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Six-Packs and Steel Guitars: Film’s Drunkest Country Singers

Take a deep sniff: Can you smell stale bourbon and shattered dreams? That must mean that it’s Oscar-movie season, and it’s time for another drama about a drunk country singer! This year’s entry in the hallowed genre is Country Strong; as its proverbial twanging crooner in danger of drinking her career away, Gwyneth Paltrow is prompting some awards buzz (even if all it means is that she’s going to lose to Natalie Portman and/or Annette Bening). But it can’t hurt to try: Last year, Crazy Heart sneaked into Oscar season at the last minute with just a hangover, a steel guitar, and a dream and won Jeff Bridges his long-coveted statuette. Perhaps these two should form a drunk-country-singer movie supergroup with the rest of the alcoholic Oprymen and women in this slideshow. Grab a beer and enjoy! (And faint warning: There are some 25-year-old spoilers, for those running way behind on their film viewing.)

Who: Mac Sledge, a once-legendary, now-forgotten country singer-songwriter who drank his career away and washes up in a desolate motel and filling station in the middle of Texas Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Whiskey Level of Drunkenness: Actually ends after the first scene, when he wakes up after getting beaten up over a bottle of whiskey. The rest of the film is about his recovery. Worst Bender: We’re told he once was so hammered he tried to kill his first wife. Unofficial Sponsors: Motel proprietor Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and her son Sonny. Likelihood of Recovery: Mac does a good job of staying dry for most of the movie, so it’s looking good.
Who: Bad Blake, a legendary country singer-songwriter who now plays smaller venues in between bouts of vomiting Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: McClure’s Whiskey Level of Drunkenness: Pretty much constant, enabled by his aging fans who often want to buy him a drink. Worst Bender: Probably the time he takes a little boy to the mall, stops in for a drink, and loses the kid. Unofficial Sponsors: Green-eyed music journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son Buddy (the lost-in-the-mall kid). With a bit of an assist from a kind-but-firm bartender played by Tender Mercies’ Robert Duvall, who we like to think roams from town to town, walking all country singers through the twelve steps. Likelihood of Recovery: The final scene is optimistic, but Bad Blake’s been down this path before.
Who: Johnny Cash, black-clad, bad-boy country western singer Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Beer, with a pill chaser Level of Drunkenness: Pretty bad, considering that he’s mixing it with drugs and personal demons. And the constant benders lead to moments of clarity, which only lead to more benders. Worst Bender: Gets soused and acts like a wild man onstage, collapses, and has his tour canceled. This inspires June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) to write “Ring of Fire,” so some good did come out of it. Unofficial Sponsor: June Carter Cash, his on-again, off-again mistress and finally his devoted wife. Likelihood of Recovery: Pretty good, it turned out. The Man in Black made it to the age of 71.
Who: Wynette’s husband, George Jones Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Screwdrivers and bourbon Level of Drunkenness: Pretty much constant. Unofficial Sponsor: Since this TV movie is Tammy’s story, George doesn’t really get one; he’s just the malignant drunken force keeping her down. However, the real George Jones did eventually sober up with the help of his fourth wife, Nancy. Worst Bender: Though Jones is quite violent when drunk, his most notable incident was more pastoral: He rode a lawn mower into town after Tammy hid the car keys. Likelihood of Recovery: Great. The real Jones is clean and sober to this day.
Who: Red Stovall (Clint Eastwood), a talented, alcoholic, and tubercular Depression-era singer who needs to get to an audition at the Grand Ole Opry Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Something clear he calls “real panther piss” Level of Drunkenness: Frequent but not constant: Red’s TB and his terrible driving are the real problems here. Worst Bender: Red gets soused behind the wheel of his car and crashes it into his sister’s home, just as a horrific dust storm also hits. Unofficial Sponsor: Nephew Whit (Kyle Eastwood), whom Red takes to calling “Hoss.” Likelihood of Recovery: None. As expected, the TB gets Red before the closing credits.
Who: Country-rock star Bud Parks, who confronts his past when he returns to his Indiana hometown Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Beer Level of Drunkenness: Not too bad, initially. But the more he lingers back home, the more he turns into his liquored-up, philandering, dickhead father Speck (Claude Akins). Worst Bender: Ends up in a hospital after reenacting one of the wild stunts of his youth by sitting in a steel cage that’s then pushed onto a road off a moving pickup truck. Perhaps this is why he left this town. Unofficial Sponsor: Bud’s long-suffering wife Alice (Mariel Hemingway), who leaves him – taking their daughter with her – when she learns he was unfaithful. Likelihood of Recovery: Good. Bud seems to have learned his lesson and returns to his wife and child. Amends are made.
Who: Hank Williams, hard-living country-folk icon extraordinaire Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Beer in his early years, graduating to whiskey as he gets fancy-pants Level of Drunkenness: On-again, off-again, exacerbated by his guilt at leaving behind his man-of-the-people roots. Worst Bender: On the eve of an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, he gets soused and plays all night at a small bar. He shows up late and drunk, but still puts on a great show. Unofficial Sponsor: Wife and manager Audrey (Susan Oliver), who is, sadly, also a bit of a shrew. Likelihood of Recovery: Zilch. After supposedly cleaning up his life, he drives to his New Year’s Day comeback show and stops at a gas station along the way, where he has a drink with the locals and sings, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Then he dies on the way to the show. (The real circumstances of Williams’s death were considerably more mysterious.)
‪‪Who: Kelly Canter, a Grammy-winning country singer whose public bouts with alcoholism have all but destroyed her career. SPOILER ALERTS FOR WHAT FOLLOWS. ‪Alcoholic Beverage of Choice: Vodka Level of Drunkenness: Despite just getting out of rehab, talented-but-fragile Kelly attempts to mount a comeback tour and, sure enough, slides off the wagon pretty quickly. (See gimme-my-booze photo.) Worst Bender: We forget, is it good or bad to drink while pregnant? Bad? Okay, then that’s the one. ‪Unofficial Sponsors: Kind and talented singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a former beauty queen whom Kelly initially sees as a rival but grows to accept in a sisterly way. ‪‪Likelihood of Recovery: If Gwyneth says she put on twenty pounds to play her, Kelly must like to drink a lot. But we won’t spoil whether she turns to a Goop-worthy, more healthy life.
Six-Packs and Steel Guitars: Film’s Drunkest Country Singers