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His flag-waving, troop-rallying smash "Have You Forgotten?" rockets Darryl Worley to stardom after a lifetime of surprising day jobs and small-town struggle

Cruising down the California highway on his tour bus, Darryl Worley ponders how strange his life has become. Only two years ago, he was just another struggling singer trying unsuccessfully to get a hit. Now his patriotic smash "Have You Forgotten?" has spent seven weeks at No. 1, his second hit to reach the top.

In fact, the song has become a phenomenon, embraced by the U.S. military -- whose mission in Afghanistan inspired it -- and Pres. George W. Bush. It reigned atop radio playlists, waving like a flag, during the war in Iraq. Darryl has been honored in the Tennessee General Assembly and introduced onstage by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Propelled by its title track, his Have You Forgotten? CD, a mixture of new songs with tunes from Darryl's first two albums, also went to No. 1, and his summer tour has become a hot ticket.

"It's just about the most surreal thing that's ever happened in my life," laughs Darryl, shivering a little on his always-chilly bus. "When you go through all the sacrifices you go through to get a music career going, it's like reaching for the stars. So when something like this happens, you're like, 'No, wait a minute, this can't be real.' "

But it is, and Darryl credits his relative levelheadedness amid the whirlwind of sudden fame to his age and experience -- at 38, he's a good decade older than most new stars. The tall Tennessean -- who towers above most crowds at 6 feet 6 inches -- played local clubs for years while working at a wide range of day jobs (see sidebar) before finally getting his foot in Nashville's door.

"There's no doubt that's been an asset for me," he says. "I believe the good Lord had His hand in that. I think He knew some of my struggles and weaknesses, and waited until He saw that I was ready for the opportunity. I'm thankful for that, because there was a time when I might have messed it all up."

Read more about Darryl Worley in the current 6/24/03 "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!