John Prine, folk icon and Americana architect, has died
The world has lost a piece of its lyrical heart. John Prine, one of the great American songsmiths, died Tuesday at the age of 73 due to complications related to COVID-19. The singer was first hospitalized at the end of last month and moved into the ICU nearly two weeks ago at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His rep confirmed the news to Esquire on behalf of the Prine family.
The folk architect, famous for songs like "Paradise," "Angel From Montgomery" (which was quickly covered by Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, and John Denver following its 1971 release), "Hello in There," "Sam Stone," and near countless others, had an extraordinary ability to mine the devastatingly ordinary and fashion it into remarkable art.
Memories from small-town Kentucky, meditations on post-war PTSD, and youthful ne'er do wells turned into expansive statements on environmentalism, mental health, and the dark side of spinning out at the tip of his pen. Prine is regarded as a singular giant in American music.
Prine—a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who won two Grammys during his career and moonlighted as an author, an actor, and a record label boss during his tenure—began recording music in 1971. He released 18 studio albums across his five decades; the latest of which witnessed a blinding final act: The Tree of Forgiveness.
The set, which landed on many critics' Best Of lists in 2018, including Esquire's, marked his first collection of original material in 13 years. It also saw him consider his own mortality. "When I Get To Heaven," an LP standout, delights in his plans for the afterlife. "I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale," he confides, signature frank styling in full display over a kazoo and a playful barroom piano. "Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long."
Prine is survived by his wife, Fiona, who also contracted coronavirus in March, but is now in good health, his sons Jody Whelan, Tommy, and Jack, and the entire Americana genre, which he most certainly, most devastatingly built.