Hal Ketchum is the country singer-songwriter who died on November 23 at the age of 67. Ketchum’s cause of death was dementia; he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019.
Ketchum’s death was announced in a statement from his wife, Andrea Ketchum, on Facebook on November 24: “With great sadness and grief we announce that Hal passed away peacefully last night at home due to complications of Dementia. May his music live on forever in your hearts and bring you peace.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ketchum’s Wife Said in 2019 That the Singer Continued to Perform Live Following His Initial Diagnosis of Dementia
In an April 2019 Facebook post, Andrea Ketchum said that the country legend had been battling dementia for some time but had continued to perform. She wrote, “Dementia is an exhausting and confusing illness and now it’s time for Hal to stay home with loved ones.” That statement said that Hal Ketchum was happy to be at home with friends and family.
Rolling Stone reported that Ketchum played his final live show in October 2018 in New Braunfels, Texas. He had been living in the state since 2008 after growing up in New York and then moving around to Florida, Texas and Nashville, where he eventually signed with Curb Records and released his first and only gold-certified album. Ketchum, who was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1994, released 11 albums, the first in 1988 and the last in 2014.
Ketchum told People magazine in 1998 that he was diagnosed with myelitis, a condition that affects the spinal cord. It can cause temporary paralysis and permanent weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ketchum said that thanks to an aggressive course of physical therapy, he was able to regain the dexterity needed to play music. At the time of the interview, Ketchum had recently married his third wife, Gina Pacconi, who was 14 years his junior. Pacconi told People that had Ketchum not kicked his drug and alcohol habits, he would not have made a full recovery.
2. A Benefit Concert to Help to Pay for Ketchum’s Medical Bills Was Held in January 2020
In January 2020, a benefit concert to help Ketchum’s family pay for his medical bills was held in Austin, Texas. A GoFundMe page was also set up by Ketchum’s family. The fundraising page was closed having raised more than $22,000.
One of the organizers of the fundraiser told The Nugget Newspaper in Sisters, Oregon, that Ketchum was known for being generous to the Sisters Schools Foundation there and to “many causes across the country over the years,” which inspired others to return the favor. The GoFundMe page, via KOKEFM, read in part, “Hal has sung his last tune for us on this earthly plane of existence. He can no longer tour or make records to support his family. Now it’s time for us to step up and help with the almost insurmountable medical bills and living expenses that are piling up.”
3. Ketchum Sold More Than 5 Million Albums During His Career
Ketchum’s official biography indicates he has sold more than 5 million albums worldwide. Among his most famous songs are “Small Town Saturday Night” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll.”
Ketchum told People that he was born in Greenwich, New York, and that he lost his mother at a young age after watching her battle multiple sclerosis and taking on some of the responsibility for his siblings at just 9 years old. Ketchum said that he first drank alcohol at 15 and gradually moved on to drugs.
After a time working as a carpenter, Ketchum was inspired to go into songwriting and moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 1979, where he spent “nine years on the area bar-band circuit,” People reported. According to Rolling Stone, he released an album called Threadbare Alibis under his full name, Hal Michael Ketchum, in 1988. He released his debut album with Curb Records, Past the Point of Rescue, in 1991, and eventually sold more than 500,000 copies, achieving the Recording Industry Association of America’s gold certification.
Ketchum had continued to use drugs during that time, telling People, “I took pride in having a lumberjack’s constitution. My drug of choice became anything.” Ketchum said he became sober in December 1997 after waking up one morning with a gram of cocaine in each of his pockets. From there, Ketchum spent 30 days in the Betty Ford Clinic as he began his journey to sobriety.
Ketchum married his wife Andrea in 2014.
4. Ketchum Applied His Carpentry Skills to Songwriting, Saying They Are Both ‘Primal Forms of Creativity’
Ketchum said in a 2007 interview with Blog Critics that he was able to apply his skills in carpentry to songwriting. Ketchum said, “That’s all right brain stuff. It’s all primal forms of creativity and, for me, they come from exactly the same place. There’s no difference and there is no way to differentiate those things. They all come from the same place.”
In a 2009 interview with SongFacts, Ketchum spoke about writing his song “I Miss My Mary” after an encounter with a man in a bar in California. Ketchum said the man talked about leaving his wife and child 40 years ago that day. Ketchum said situations like that regularly provided inspiration for songs:
People are full of stories. We all have stories, we all have heartache, and we all have sadness and we all have joy. Golden moments. You never know. I just kind of stay open to it.
Have a lot of great dialogues with people. Just kind of occur. Could be on an airplane, could be anywhere. Backstage somewhere. You realize everyone has a story, a child with cerebral palsy, or some great loss in their life, or some great gain. You just never know.
5. Neil Diamond ‘Enjoyed the Heck’ Out of Ketchum’s Album ‘Father Time’
Neil Diamond was a fan of Ketchum’s work, according to The Boot, and wrote Ketchum a letter in 2008 in which he said about the album Father Time, “I gave it a real good listen and, you know what, I enjoyed the heck out of it.” Ketchum told The Boot that he wrote and recorded Father Time over a two-day period with live musicians on each track rather than overdubbing or pre-recording.
Ketchum said he met Diamond in Nashville in 1993 and that the pair wrote songs together.
Ketchum said he played rhythm guitar on one of Diamond’s albums. He told The Boot, “I went to his house and we wrote a couple songs. I got to play rhythm guitar on a Neil Diamond record which was huge for me. Having Neil Diamond write anything about me is kind of like painting Picasso’s house.”