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Carlene Carter: Back from the Brink (2008)

Originally published in the April 7, 2008 issue of Country Weekly featuring Blake Shelton on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Over the course of eight months in 2003, Carlene Carter said farewell to four of the people closest to her.

Her ex-boyfriend, musician Howie Epstein, died from a drug overdose in February. Her mother, June Carter Cash, passed away in May, followed by stepfather Johnny in September. Finally, her half-sister Rosey died in October.

“I lost so much of my family in such a short time, and I really could not understand why I wasn’t one of them,” she says. “I had run myself into the ground. I was definitely living a really hard, crooked path.”

Just a few years earlier, Carlene had been riding high. The daughter of June Carter and her first husband, country legend Carl Smith, Carlene enjoyed a string of country hits in the early 1990s including “Every Little Thing,” “Come On Back” and “I Fell in Love.” She charmed fans everywhere with her high-energy live shows and mischievous wit.

But in the late 1990s, Carlene drifted into drug addiction—the same demon that haunted loved ones Howie, Johnny and Rosey. Soon she was as well-known for her rap sheet as for her songs: She was arrested in 2001 for heroin possession (while riding in a stolen car with Howie), in 2002 for identity theft and in 2004 for failing a court-ordered drug test.

She finally began to put her life back together, returning to the spotlight by playing her mother in the well-received 2005 musical Wildwood Flowers. Now she has poured her gratitude and grief into Stronger, her first new album in 13 years.

The lyrics address both the great losses she has withstood and the happiness she has found over the past two years with husband Joseph Breen, with whom she lives in the mountains of Northern California. “It’s a little bit of a trek to come down and catch planes and stuff, but it’s really beautiful,” she says. “We’ve got this serene lifestyle there with our animals. It’s great.”

Now Carlene is looking forward to hitting the road to sing for the loyal fans who’ve stuck with her through thick and thin—and to simply enjoy the life she wasn’t sure she’d live long enough to see.

“I just wasn’t supposed to go,” figures Carlene, 52. “I was not supposed to go. I’m supposed to be here for some reason. Hopefully it’s to sing, dance, be happy and make people laugh and cry all at the same time.”

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