‘Butt naked and demanded cigarettes’

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A few years ago, about 2,500 of my closest friends and I packed into a megachurch auditorium in the Oklahoma City area to hear Randy Travis sing.

The Nashville superstar entertained us with his all-time country hits such as “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “Diggin Up Bones” as well as the gospel tunes that won Travis a string of Dove Awards. His “Baptism” duet with Kenny Chesney remains one of my personal favorites.

At the concert, Travis talked freely about his faith in Jesus Christ and shared an easy rapport with the predominantly evangelical audience.

That Travis is a far cry from the one who this week turned up “butt naked and demanded cigarettes,” as a Texas television station described it. Here is how my former Associated Press colleague Diana Heidgerd in Dallas characterized the singer’s brush with the law (at least his second arrest this year):

Country singer Randy Travis was charged with driving while intoxicated and threatening law officers after he crashed his Pontiac Trans Am and was found naked and combative at the scene, Texas officials said.

The accident was reported Tuesday night, and Travis walked out of jail Wednesday morning wearing scrubs, no shoes and a University of Texas baseball cap. It was the second Texas arrest this year for Travis, who was cited in February for public intoxication.

A Pontiac Trans Am registered to the 53-year-old singer had veered off a roadway near Tioga, a town about 60 miles north of Dallas where the entertainer lives, and struck several barricades in a construction zone, said Tom Vinger, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Vinger said Travis made threats against DPS troopers and was not wearing clothes at the time of his arrest. The singer refused sobriety tests so a blood specimen was taken, he said.

(Are we certain Travis wasn’t filming a video for a new country song?)

For all the humor that Travis’ real-life human tragedy has inspired, I can’t help but wonder about the path that one takes from the top of the music world (and presumably from a place of strong Christian faith) to hit rock bottom like he seemingly has. From a faith standpoint, I am curious if he has — or had — a church family and where they are amid this downfall. Has Travis renounced his faith? Or is he a struggling sinner? (And we may never know the true story.)

While checking out what major news sites were writing about Mitt Romney’s running mate pick Paul Ryan, I came across an unrelated CNN.com headline that asked:

Can country singer Randy Travis get past his rough patch?

The CNN story noted:

Travis, of course, isn’t the first country star to run into problems.

Hank Williams and George Jones were known for their tumultuous lifestyles and drinking. Jones even earned the moniker “No Show Jones” because he missed so many performances.

“The difference is George Jones had his clothes on,” said country radio consultant Joel Raab.

And it’s certainly not the first time a celebrity from any genre has found himself in the middle of a personal and public relations challenge. R&B star Chris Brown worked his way back up the charts after he was convicted three years ago of assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Former “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen is back on television after a very public firing and meltdown.

Interesting analysis. But I kept reading and hoping that CNN would address the elephant — er, ghost — in the room.

This is about as close as the story comes:

Travis’ last major hit came in 2002 with “Three Wooden Crosses,” a song about faith and redemption.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,

Why there’s not four of them, Heaven only knows.

I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you,

It’s what you leave behind you when you go.

Travis “was able to tell it with sincerity and it was a hit,” Jessen said.

I realize that it’s not exactly breaking news when a celebrity gets drunk and does something stupid. But in the case of Travis, I’d love to see someone in the mainstream media take a real crack at the religion angle.

Perhaps “It’s Just A Matter of Time.”

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • The Old Bill

    I hope his family and faith family help him. And I wonder, too, about prescription meds interacting with the booze. Too many bizarre incidents in the news these days.

    To many casual cheap shots in the media about people in real pain.

    There is tremendous pressure on those at the top of the pyramid. There’s not much room to move around, footing is precarious, there are others pushing and jostling to shove you off that perch. And if you slip, the only way is down. And when you fall, the fans that adored you on Palm Sunday will bring out the boards and nails. It makes us peons feel so much better about ourselves when the mighty appear in a Page One mugshot.

    There is a terrible price for fame and fortune. I hope he finds healing.

    “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

  • sari

    So sorry to hear this about Randy Travis. He delighted overseas servicemen, including my husband, when he performed USO tours during the ’80′s, well before it became popular to jump on the patriotic bandwagon.

    While I can see where the religion angle would be interesting, absent an interview with Travis himself, much of it would be speculation. A spokesman issued a statement after Travis’ previous encounter with the law. Hopefully, members of some church family will reach out to offer the support he needs.

    The journalist contrasted his downward trajectory with George Strait’s continued success but failed to contrast their lives. Travis’ musical talent helped him escape an adolescent life of crime. He and his wife recently divorced, whereas Strait, a college graduate who’s been married forever, seems to have lived a much quieter, more settled life.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I pretty much agree with sari; absent a personal interview, the religious aspect is too speculative. Moreover, it would be too easy to mock or dismiss his faith (cast the first stone, as it were).

    I’m more interested in whether he has tried to do any recovery work such as AA or some other type of rehab. Has he tried to stop drinking and failed? Again, you have to speculate: an essential aspect of recovery is that you have to realize you have a problem, and only he can call himself an alcoholic.

  • JWB

    In the Nashville-celebrity world as opposed to the Hollywood-celebrity world, isn’t being a professed Christian (perhaps sincerely, perhaps not, perhaps depending on the day) more the rule than the exception? Couldn’t you do that religion-ghost story in almost every Nashville-celebrity-in-trouble tabloid piece? It would I suppose be interesting to know whether he was or had been associated with the subset of Evangelicalism that believes in strict teetotalism as opposed to a congregation or denomination that finds nothing wrong with moderate drinking as distinguished from drunkenness.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    In the Nashville-celebrity world as opposed to the Hollywood-celebrity world, isn’t being a professed Christian (perhaps sincerely, perhaps not, perhaps depending on the day) more the rule than the exception? Couldn’t you do that religion-ghost story in almost every Nashville-celebrity-in-trouble tabloid piece?

    There may be a little truth to this. The song “This Is Country Music” by Brad Paisley opens like this:

    You’re not supposed to say
    The word cancer in a song
    And tellin’ folks Jesus is the answer
    Can rub ‘em wrong

    It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks
    Little towns and mama
    Yeah that might be true
    But this is country music and we do

    But at the same time, Travis is not just a country singer. He’s one who crossed over big time into gospel music circles and, as mentioned in the post, won a string of Gospel Music Association awards. He also professed his faith story quite publicly and performed in churches as well as, granted, casinos and honky tonks.

  • The Old Bill

    True, Bobby. And churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saints.


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