Songwriter Rich Fagan Rebounds After Tragic Downfall
Rich Fagan was known for years as one of country's biggest songwriters, with a list of hits that includes two of John Michael Montgomery's biggest singles -- 'Be My Baby Tonight' and 'Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident).' It's hard to imagine that a man whose name was synonymous with No.1 songs would ever be labeled a murderer, but one night in 2008 changed all of that.
Rich, who was a close friend, business partner and roommate with legendary music publisher Tom Oteri (and father of 'Saturday Night Live' actress Cheri Oteri), admits he was on a fast downward spiral prior to the fateful night. Depressed by seeing his songwriting career falter, and plagued by a lifelong battle with alcohol abuse, he was already seeing warning signs that he was on a dangerous path -- signs he chose to ignore. "Towards the end," he tells GAC, "I thought, 'You know, tequila in the morning might be a good idea.'"
On the night of April 26, 2008, Rich admittedly mixed tequila with too many anti-depressants, leading to a tragedy that has changed his life. In an altercation with his buddy Tom that turned physical, he took a pocket knife and slashed his friend's wrist.
"He basically sat down cross-legged, Indian-style," Rich recalls. Blood, he says, "was pouring very badly. It wasn't pulsing like an artery. He said, 'Give me the phone, get me so-and-so's number and get the [hell] outta here."
Rich left the home they shared, and was subsequently arrested for drunk-driving. Concerned for his friend, he used his one call to contact not an attorney, but a close friend to check on Tom. After being bailed out of jail the next morning, he was on his way back to the house to make amends, when his bondsman received a call telling him to return Rich to the jail.
"Your friend's dead," Rich remembers hearing. "Murder one." For many people, that would be the end of the story. But Rich, who was supported by Cheri as well as Tom's son, Tom, Jr., decided he would not let that one act define the rest of his life. Charged with reckless homicide, Tom's children pleaded with the court to show Rich leniency in deciding his fate, which ultimately led to his being sent to rehab instead, to face his demons head on.
"I was crying, 'It should've been me. It should've been me,'" he remembers. But fortunately, he found forgiveness and healing while spending seven months in rehab, and vowed to make something positive come out of the tragedy.
Now a free man, after the murder charge was dropped in January 2009 when the coroner determined Tom died from a heart attack instead of blood loss, Rich has completely turned his life around. "Saul was walking on the road to Damascus when he ran into this dude and it changed him," Rich recalls, citing a story from the Bible. "From that moment on, he went around telling everybody what he used to be like, what happened and what he is now, and it's just that spiritual an expeieince [for me]. It's that big a change, and I'm just amazed."
Rich now says the death of his friend saved him, adding that had the tragedy not occurred, he likely would have drunk himself to death. Dedicating the rest of his life to helping others, he says he refuses to remain depressed over the tragic loss. Rich, who co-wrote a song with Cledus T. Judd called 'Christmas in Rehab,' says laughter is necessary to heal.
"Necessity," he says, "is the mother of invention."
Rich Fagan Performs 'Money Doesnt Matter'