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Patsy Cline was at the top of her career, and only 30 years old, when she tragically died in an airplane crash 50 years ago, March 5, 1963. The accident also took the lives of country stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, as well as Patsy's manager, Randy Hughes. At the time of her passing, Patsy was riding high with two No. 1 hits under her belt, "I Fall to Pieces" and "She's Got You." Those songs also found success on the pop charts, helping establish Patsy as a true crossover star with nearly unlimited potential.
Patsy, Randy, Hawkshaw and Cowboy were flying back to Nashville from a benefit show in Kansas City, Mo., for the family of radio DJ Jack Call. Despite reports of bad weather, Randy, who was piloting the small aircraft, decided to make the trip, spurred on by Patsy's desire to see her children. A blinding rainstorm caused the plane to crash in Camden, Tenn., just miles from its Nashville destination.
What is often forgotten in the story is the loss of the other two artists, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Hawkshaw, who was married to country star Jean Shepard at the time, enjoyed several Top 10 hits, with "Pan American," "Slow Poke" and others, and had just released what would become his biggest hit, "Lonesome 7-7203," which reached No. 1. Cowboy Copas scored a 12-week No 1 hit in 1960 with the classic "Alabam," and had the first hit version of "Tennessee Waltz" on the country charts in 1948. Hawkshaw's widow Jean Shepard has commented that the others on that fatal plane should be recalled as fondly as Patsy. "I loved Patsy but there were four people on that plane and they should all be remembered," she recently told Country Weekly.
The Grand Ole Opry will recognize the 50th anniversary of the tragedy during its first Tuesday Night Opry of the season, March 5. The three artists will be remembered with performances by Jean Shepard, Mandy Barnett, who portrayed Patsy in the musical play Always . . . Patsy Cline, Terri Clark, John Conlee and others. For more on Patsy's life and career, pick up the March 11 issue of Country Weekly, on sale now.