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A few months ago, patrons at a North Dakota casino scored a real jackpot: Jeannie C. Riley's first performance in seven years.
"I felt euphoric!" recalls the singer, who shot to overnight fame with the smash "Harper Valley P.T.A." in 1968. "I felt so close to the audience. It was a spiritual experience."
It was also a triumphant return for Jeannie, 56, since she conquered an extended bout with bipolar disorder that confined her to bed for years at a time. "I was a miserable, depressed zombie," recalls Jeannie, who spent most of the late '90s bedridden in her former home outside Nashville.
"I got out of bed for a couple of months at different times," she explains. "And then I would be so thrilled to be out of bed, I wouldn't want to miss a second of anything. I would burn the candle at both ends, hardly getting any rest at all. At the end of every 'up' situation it was kerplunk! - back to the bottom again. Then I'd be depressed for a year."
Worried friends like Loretta Lynn and Billy Ray Cyrus prayed for Jeannie and offered encouragement. But in November 1999, she found a cure from an unlikely source: a drawer full of mementos in her bedroom.
"I picked up a card sent to me by my daughter Kim at the lowest point in my life," Jeannie recalls. "I had quit reading the Bible because I thought I was on the outs with God - I figured I had committed the unpardonable sin, and it was too late for me. But Kim had written a Bible verse on the card, and when I read the words, I felt His love and mercy well up in me. A peace came over me that nothing seems to be able to shake. I was healed on the spot."
Now Jeannie is slowly hitting the concert trail. She plans to perform Top 10 hits like "There Never Was A Time" and "Oh, Singer" at occasional dates over the summer.
She's also planning to write a sequel to her 1981 autobiography, From Harper Valley To The Mountain Top, and hopes to launch a TV talk show in the near future.
But most of all, Jeannie C. Riley is living one day at a time. "The fact that I've got another chance at life has caused me to do a lot of things different," says Jeannie. "I'm taking it slowly. I'm really finding out who I am for the first time in my life. I've finally learned to smell the roses of today, and I'm so thankful just to be alive."
-- Nick Krewen