Luke Bryan has had a lot of success as a country artist, selling over 7 million albums worldwide that have included 23 number-one hits. But the American Idol judge has also experienced a number of family tragedies in his life. Here’s what you need to know about how the deaths of his siblings and brother-in-law led to his expanded family.
Luke Bryan Has Lost Both of His Siblings
In 1996, just before Bryan was going to move to Nashville at the age of 19 to finally pursue his dream of being a professional country artist, his older brother, Chris, was killed in a car accident. The loss of his brother was still hard for Bryan to talk about in a 2013 interview with ABC News.
“My older brother, Chris, was unexpectedly killed in a … car accident,” Bryan said. “I’m kind of hyperventilating talking about it. … You never truly … move beyond it.”
His mom told ABC News that she “couldn’t bear the thought of him being away” from the family at that point, so Bryan stayed in Leesburg, Georgia and worked on his parents’ farm until his father finally told him, “You know, if you’re going to pursue your music career, you need to pack your truck up and move to Nashville.”
He quickly found success as a songwriter and then as an artist in his own right. In 2007, Bryan made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry and then just a few days later, tragedy struck again when his older sister, Kelly Cheshire, died unexpectedly while at home with her young son, Brooks (Til). Her cause of death was some unknown illness that was never identified.
“She was home with her 3-year-old, and it was like someone turned the lights out. They never determined what happened. The autopsies, the coroner, no one could figure it out,” Luke told People in 2013.
“My only older siblings … gone from the world, in a flash in two, two different, crazy, tragic manners, that … we’ll never know, and never understand,” Bryan told ABC News.
Kelly’s husband, Ben Lee, began raising their three kids on his own, but then in 2014, Ben Lee had a heart attack in front of Bryan’s wife Caroline and Til and later died. He was 46 years old.
The Family Tragedy Expanded Bryan’s Family to Seven
Bryan and his wife Caroline have two sons: Thomas (Bo), born March 2008, and Tatum (Tate), born August 2010. Following the death of Bryan’s brother-in-law, they immediately welcomed their nieces Jordan and Kris and nephew Til into their home as well.
“We never thought twice about it,” Caroline told ABC News. “You know, it was never something that he and I had to sit down and talk about, you know, should we take this on? We just did it.”
In 2017, the Bryan family experienced another tragedy when Caroline’s brother and his wife lost their seven-month-old daughter, Sadie Brett. In a 2019 interview with CMT, Caroline talked about how hard it has all been on their family.
“Trust me, there are times when I just lose my sh*t. Sometimes I just go sit in the shower and cry. I struggle with Luke being gone all the time and how to make everybody happy and how to make this charity (for her late niece Brett) go well. It’s hard to be alone a lot. Our family thing is, you can take two paths in life: one of being bitter and angry, or one of I’m gonna find the happiness in this and make the best of something that’s horrible.”
Bryan told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in 2017 that he has had to rely heavily on his faith in God to get past all of these hardships.
“I’ve watched my family go through ebbs and flows where we get mad at God and we get mad at why this has happened,” he admitted. “Well, you keep going and you try to, try to be as positive as you can, and you try to appreciate every day. You’ll never get back to 100 percent. You’ll always be working to get back to 75 percent.”
American Idol airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.