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Birth of a Legend - Hank Willliams - Sept. 17, 1923

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When Hank Williams was born in Mt. Olive, Ala., his circumstances hardly indicated future musical stardom.

First of all, his real first name, Hiram, was misspelled "Hiriam" on his birth certificate. Hank was also born with a spinal deformity that caused him terrible back pain throughout his life.

Hank's parents were dirt-poor strawberry farmers, although his father later worked for logging companies in Alabama. But Hank would map out his future in another direction - music. The gifted, though often withdrawn, youngster formed the first of his Drifting Cowboy bands in 1938, at the age of 15.

By the late 1940s and early '50s, Hank became the dominant figure in country music. In 1949, his "Lovesick Blues" topped the charts for 16 weeks and led to his debut on the Grand Ole Opry, where his performance of the song earned him a legendary six encores.

Hank also wrote and recorded such classics as "Why Don't You Love Me," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Jambalaya" and dozens more. From 1948 through 1952, he cut eight No. 1 hits and entered the Top 10 an incredible 30 times. Many experts consider Hank the first of the truly successful singer/songwriters.

But Hank's wild and restless lifestyle, which included bouts with drugs and alcohol, led to an early, untimely demise. He was officially pronounced dead of a heart attack, Jan. 1, 1953, in Oak Hill, W.Va., after being found in the back seat of his chauffeured Cadillac.

Hank would have celebrated his 80th birthday this year. Though he was only 29 at the time of his death, the impact of his legacy continues to this day. As Marty Stuart once proclaimed, "Anyone who's ever picked up a guitar and written a song owes a debt to Hank Williams."