Keith Whitley’s lurid obsession with pornography and sex with strangers when he was drunk may be far more than you really want to know about the late country star, but Lorrie Morgan, his long-suffering superstar spouse, wants you to share her pain.
Her book, “Forever Yours, Faithfully” (out this week from Ballantine, $25.95), is subtitled “My Love Story,” and is less an autobiography than it is a harrowing account of her life with the brilliant, out-of-control Whitley. He died at 34 of an alcohol overdose on May 9, 1989.
Morgan, however, has gone on to sell 7 million albums and has become one of country music’s most popular vocalists. She will be promoting the book, co-authored with George Vecsey (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) for the next two months, talking to local and national media and making appearances in bookstores.
A sample of the light reading contained within: “Keith died in our bed in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, from a huge and gruesome cocktail of alcohol while I was thousands of miles away,” Morgan writes unflinchingly, incongruously weaving that piece of information into an essay about how she thinks their three-year love affair-marriage was like Romeo and Juliet.
There are mentions of vomit, excrement and disposable women called “old trolls” mixed in with descriptions of the couple’s ardent lovemaking so tender they both cried. He wrote worshipful songs about her, then sneaked off to peep shows along Nashville’s seamy Dickerson Pike when she was out on tour.
So much for Shakespeare.
But then, Morgan can be forgiven for the stark mood changes, because she must have dealt with massive incongruities during her marriage to the fatally addicted Whitley.
Did you know she used to have to tie his leg to hers at night, then walk him to the bathroom (even “the sitting-down parts”) to keep him from drinking alcohol-based toiletries while he was in there?
Lorrie quotes a former band member, who says Keith once told him, “The best thing in the world is to pass out with the bottle, and when you wake up, the bottle is right there and you take another swig and you just pass out again.”
No wonder Keith liked to sing Lefty Frizzell’s song “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
This book’s most compelling point is that Morgan believes there is more to Whitley’s death than has been made public.
Arguably, the last chilling account - by Morgan’s former brother-in-law, a recovering addict himself who was the last person to see Whitley alive - could be viewed as questionable. A better eyewitness has yet to surface, though.
He answers the questions of what Whitley was up to on that last lost weekend on Music Row, fanatically drunk and picking up a woman for a fast session under a motel stairwell. (She later ripped off Whitley’s personalized lighter for a souvenir.)
But Morgan’s lingering concerns are:
Was anyone with Whitley that morning at his house between 8:30, when Lane Palmer, the brother-in-law, supposedly left him sober, to 11:30 a.m. when Palmer returned to find him dying alone?
In between, Whitley’s manager, Jack McFadden, dropped by, unable to rouse him from behind the locked bedroom door despite rustling sounds inside.
Palmer found a gram bag of cocaine on the dresser that had not been there earlier that morning. He swallowed the bag as the ambulance arrived to take Whitley’s body away.
What ever became of the “old troll,” whom Whitley had picked up the night before for sex? She contacted Palmer with an extortion attempt once she found out that Whitley was dead. Palmer said he briefly weighed the options of paying her off or having her killed.
Morgan found out about her, though, right after the funeral, called her in California and confronted her as an accomplice in Whitley’s death. The woman sent back Whitley’s lighter and hasn’t been heard from since.
Who was the mysterious friend Sammy, whom Whitley only saw whenever he was drunk? Witnesses saw a man with Whitley the day before his death, yet Morgan never heard from the “old buddy” again.
“If Keith had been on a two-day bender before he died, why was the house so neat and clean?” Morgan writes. “How did the bed get made?”
Morgan, who wed singer-songwriter Jon Randall this year, said she hasn’t reached a point of closure with Whitley, after eight years, a subsequent failed marriage and three relationships. (Yes, one was with Troy Aikman; it’s detailed sparingly on Pages 257-260.)
Her own strength, honesty and level-headedness in the face of such pain and madness have to be admired. Her fairy-tale childhood as the daughter of Grand Ole Opry star and family man George Morgan gave her no basis for dealing with someone like Whitley.
Her advice to women living with the same problem? Go to Al-Anon meetings. (She didn’t.) Practice tough love with the offender. (She couldn’t.) Look for the early signs, before the relationship progresses. (She ignored them.)
Now, Morgan writes, she doesn’t sing “Stand by Your Man” anymore, “You could not pay me to sing that song today. … We (women) were not meant to suffer.”
Would she go through it all again? “These days, I’m just not so sure about what would have happened,” she writes. “I have got to be honest with myself. I don’t know if I could have stuck it out. I might have had enough. … It just never came to that.”
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