Famous for songs like “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” “Illegal Smile,” “Donald and Lydia” and “Paradise,” Prine was widely recognized as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation.
Prine was born in a small suburb of Illinois and started playing guitar at 14. After graduating high school, he served in the Army during the Vietnam War era as a mechanic.
On January 26, Prine was honored with the Grammys Lifetime Achievement Award at the 62nd annual awards show, which featured a tribute introduction and performance by Bonnie Raitt. His illustrious career spans over five decades.
1. Prine Was First Hospitalized on March 26
Prine was first hospitalized on March 26 after exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, according to Rolling Stone. He was intubated on March 29.
On April 3, Prine’s wife, Fiona Whelan, announced on Instagram that it was Prine’s eighth day in the ICU.
She wrote, “This is John’s 8th day in ICU … I cannot be with him which makes this nightmare all the more distressing for me. John has pneumonia in both lungs. He has also developed some peripheral issues that are being treated with meds, including antibiotics. He is very ill and yet I remain hopeful that he can continue to fight this devastating virus and come home where we can care for him.”
While it’s unclear where Prine picked up the virus, Whelan acknowledged that she and her husband returned from Europe last month.
2. His Wife Tested Positive for the Virus on March 17
Whelan, who was also Prine’s manager, announced that she tested positive for the virus on March 17 in an Instagram video. In the video, Whelan explained, “I have some of the typical symptoms. I didn’t have a high fever, but I certainly had a cough and some breathlessness.”
She revealed that Prine took the test but his results came back “indeterminate” at that time. “There’s a chance he may not have the virus, and we are working really, really hard and being really diligent about all the protocols. We are quarantined and isolated from each other and members of the family. It’s hard, I won’t lie, but it’s absolutely important.”
On March 30, Whelan announced on Twitter that she recovered from the virus.
3. He Had Pre-Existing Conditions
John had a number of ailments and pre-existing conditions, according to Consequences of Sound.
In her Instagram video, Whelan said, “So many people have reached out to ask how we are and especially how John is, because many of you know that he’s had a lot of different health issues over the years, and he is definitely in that vulnerable population they’ve been talking about.”
In 1998, Prine underwent cancer surgery in order to remove a tumor in his neck that doctors identified as squamous cell cancer. In 2013, he had one lung removed to treat lung cancer, according to The New York Times.
Prine canceled his upcoming tour dates earlier this year after sustaining a hip injury. On February 18, he posted an Instagram saying, “Thank you for the well wishes- everything went well with the hip surgery.”
4. Kris Kristofferson Was Credited With Discovering Him
Prine was discovered by Kris Kristofferson while on the Chicago folk revival scene. At the time, Prine was singing at a place called Fifth Peg in Chicago. One night, musician Steve Goodman brought Kristofferson to watch Prine perform.
According to The New York Times, Kristofferson later wrote the experience “was unlike anything I’d ever heard before.”
Discussing their first meeting and how Kristofferson discovered him, Prine told Billboard in 2019, “… Kris was hotter than a two-dollar pistol at the time. He had just put his first record out a year before I met him, and he was playing a club in Chicago called the Quiet Knight and my friend Steve Goodman, who was playing all the folk clubs with me, he was opening for Kris. Kris played four nights at the Quiet Knight and every night Steve Goodman tried to get Kris to come over and see his buddy across town. And Kris couldn’t care less at the time. He was a pretty busy guy.”
Not long after meeting, Kristofferson brought Prine to New York to perform. The morning after performing at the Bitter End, he scored a $25,000 recording contract with Atlantic Records.
5. He Was a Two-Time Grammy Winner & Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame
In a 2008 interview with the Huffington Post, Bob Dylan shared, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about ‘Sam Stone’ the soldier junky daddy and ‘Donald and Lydia,’ where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be ‘Lake Marie.’ I don’t remember what album that’s on.”
In addition to being a songwriter, Prine was an author, actor, record-label owner and the recipient of the 2016 PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award.
In 2018, he released his first album with original content in 13 years, titled The Tree of Forgiveness. The album peaked at number five on the Billboard 200.