Legendary singer-songwriter John Prine dead at 73 due to coronavirus complications

Lyndsey Parker
Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music

John Prine, widely celebrated as one of the most influential songwriters of all time, has died due to complications from the coronavirus, roughly two months after he received a Lifetime Achievement honor at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. He was 73 years old.

The tragic news comes nine days after Prine’s family announced that he had been hospitalized in critical condition. “After a sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms, John was hospitalized on Thursday (3/26),” March 29’s Twitter statement read. “He was intubated Saturday evening, and continues to receive care, but his situation is critical. This is hard news for us to share. But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years, we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send on more of that love and support now. And know that we love you, and John loves you.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 25: Singer John Prine, recipient of the 2020 Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award, performs onstage during AMERICANAFEST's Pre-GRAMMY Salute to Willie Nelson at The Troubadour on January 25, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Prine was born Oct. 10, 1946, in Maywood, Ill., and began playing guitar at age 14. After cutting his chops at open-mic nights hosted by Chicago’s Fifth Peg club in the late ‘60s, and being discovered by Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert (who wrote the first review Prine ever received), he became a regular in Chicago’s folk-revival scene. Another high-profile figure that helped introduce Prine to the public was Kris Kristofferson, who joked that Prine was such a superb songwriter that “we'll have to break his thumbs.” Kristofferson was instrumental in helping Prine secure a deal with Atlantic Records; Prine eventually released his self-titled debut album in 1971, quickly earning widespread critical acclaim for his compelling storytelling and unique, wry humor. 

While Prine never charted a major hit on his own, his compositions were recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, George Strait, Bette Midler, the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg, Dwight Yoakam, and the Highwaymen (a country supergroup comprised of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Cash, and Kristofferson). Prine’s signature song alone, “Angel From Montgomery,” has been covered by John Denver, Ben Harper, the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Maren Morris, Maggie Rogers, Carly Simon, and most notably Bonnie Raitt.

Prine was beloved among his songwriting peers. In 2009, Bob Dylan told Huffington Post, "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind-trips to the Nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” In his autobiography, Johnny Cash revealed that he listened to Prine when in “songwriting mode and looking for inspiration.” In 2008, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters told Word magazine, “[Prine’s work] is just extraordinarily eloquent music — and he lives on that plane with Neil Young and [John] Lennon." Prine had many younger admirers as well: His final album during his lifetime, 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness on his own Oh Boy Records label, featured guest artists Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and Amanda Shires. 

Among the many illustrious honors Prine received during his five-decade recording career, besides this year’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy, were three Grammys, six Americana Music Awards (including three wins for Artist of the Year), and a 2019 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2019, he was on the shortlist of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees.

Prine overcame cancer twice in his life, first in 1998 when he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck; his subsequent surgery permanently altered his vocal tone, and he required a year of recuperation and speech therapy before he could perform live again. In 2013, he underwent an operation to remove cancer in his left lung, but he returned to touring just six months later.

Prine is survived by his third wife, Fiona Whelan, and their three children. Following the news of Prine’s passing, stars from all walks of life took to social media to express their grief.

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