John Prine, widely celebrated as one of the most influential songwriters of all time, has died due to complications from the coronavirus, roughly two months after he received a Lifetime Achievement honor at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. He was 73 years old.
The tragic news comes nine days after Prine’s family announced that he had been hospitalized in critical condition. “After a sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms, John was hospitalized on Thursday (3/26),” March 29’s Twitter statement read. “He was intubated Saturday evening, and continues to receive care, but his situation is critical. This is hard news for us to share. But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years, we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send on more of that love and support now. And know that we love you, and John loves you.”
Prine was born Oct. 10, 1946, in Maywood, Ill., and began playing guitar at age 14. After cutting his chops at open-mic nights hosted by Chicago’s Fifth Peg club in the late ‘60s, and being discovered by Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert (who wrote the first review Prine ever received), he became a regular in Chicago’s folk-revival scene. Another high-profile figure that helped introduce Prine to the public was Kris Kristofferson, who joked that Prine was such a superb songwriter that “we'll have to break his thumbs.” Kristofferson was instrumental in helping Prine secure a deal with Atlantic Records; Prine eventually released his self-titled debut album in 1971, quickly earning widespread critical acclaim for his compelling storytelling and unique, wry humor.
While Prine never charted a major hit on his own, his compositions were recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, George Strait, Bette Midler, the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg, Dwight Yoakam, and the Highwaymen (a country supergroup comprised of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Cash, and Kristofferson). Prine’s signature song alone, “Angel From Montgomery,” has been covered by John Denver, Ben Harper, the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Maren Morris, Maggie Rogers, Carly Simon, and most notably Bonnie Raitt.
Prine was beloved among his songwriting peers. In 2009, Bob Dylan told Huffington Post, "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind-trips to the Nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” In his autobiography, Johnny Cash revealed that he listened to Prine when in “songwriting mode and looking for inspiration.” In 2008, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters told Word magazine, “[Prine’s work] is just extraordinarily eloquent music — and he lives on that plane with Neil Young and [John] Lennon." Prine had many younger admirers as well: His final album during his lifetime, 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness on his own Oh Boy Records label, featured guest artists Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and Amanda Shires.
Among the many illustrious honors Prine received during his five-decade recording career, besides this year’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy, were three Grammys, six Americana Music Awards (including three wins for Artist of the Year), and a 2019 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2019, he was on the shortlist of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees.
Prine overcame cancer twice in his life, first in 1998 when he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck; his subsequent surgery permanently altered his vocal tone, and he required a year of recuperation and speech therapy before he could perform live again. In 2013, he underwent an operation to remove cancer in his left lung, but he returned to touring just six months later.
Prine is survived by his third wife, Fiona Whelan, and their three children. Following the news of Prine’s passing, stars from all walks of life took to social media to express their grief.
Over here on E Street, we are crushed by the loss of John Prine. John and I were "New Dylans" together in the early 70s and he was never anything but the lovliest guy in the world. A true national treasure and a songwriter for the ages. We send our love and prayers to his family.
— Bruce Springsteen (@springsteen) April 8, 2020
And then I’m gonna drink a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long I’m gonna kiss a pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl Cause this old man is going to town”
“WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN” ~ John Prine 💔 🚬 pic.twitter.com/4LtRpowz4J
— Brandy Clark (@TheBrandyClark) April 8, 2020
My heart hurts learning that John Prine has passed away. He is singing with the angels. You will be missed but your songs will live on. ❤️
— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) April 8, 2020
The great John Prine has passed away from the virus. He showed me how to “let it rip” when it comes to songwriting. There’s a huge hole in the music world tonight. John did it best. RIP -T
— Toby Keith (@tobykeith) April 8, 2020
The great folk singer and songwriter, John Prine, passed away today due to the coronavirus. So many great songs. Here’s one about the loneliness of growing old and a plea for us not to ignore our elderly.
“Hello in There”. Please watch...https://t.co/HvdpTuMprS
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) April 8, 2020
Coronavirus has taken one of the great ones: John Prine, dead at 73. So many memorable songs.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 8, 2020
I hope everyone can stop and listen to their favorite John Prine song right now. What an enormous loss. Sending love out there 😔
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) April 8, 2020
John Prine . He done gone over to the Other side with Bill Withers, two of the Great Ones. How fortunate we all are to have witnessed the Humanity of these great men. We’re gonna miss these two. 🙁 -KMo@JohnPrineMusic pic.twitter.com/K0WUtT5vY3
— Keb' Mo' (@kebmomusic) April 8, 2020
Can confirm hst loved him some john prine
Bill Murray Explains How He Pulled Himself Out of a Deep, Lasting Funk: He Took Hunter S. Thompson's Advice & Listened to the Music of John Prine | Open Culture https://t.co/q8dqiPOkqE
— John Cusack (@johncusack) April 8, 2020
As if we didn't have enough devastating news
The great John Prine has died & I am heartbroken.
I always saw him as a sort of Mark Twain figure
A humorist but mainly a humanist. He could make you laugh one moment and rip your heart open in the next.
He always very nice to me RS pic.twitter.com/qUqrkRYjZs
— Ron Sexsmith (@RonSexsmith) April 8, 2020
better at it than pretty much any of us. decades of service to song. this is a loss with no upside. goodbye John Prine, your voice will live on as long as there's people who need help, which is to say forever. https://t.co/e6GA633ntl
— The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) April 8, 2020
RIP John Prine. Thanks for being so much more than we could ever deserve.
— Dawes (@dawestheband) April 8, 2020
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