49 Years Ago: Gram Parsons Dies
It was 49 years ago today, on Sept. 19, 1973, that singer-songwriter Gram Parsons passed away. Parsons was only 26 years old when he died, from an overdose of morphine and alcohol.
A Florida native, Parsons began his professional music career with the Byrds in 1968, before launching into a series of other musical endeavors, including a stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers and a short-lived solo career. But while his addictions cut short his promising music career, his legacy continues to live on, thanks in part to his friendship with Emmylou Harris.
Harris and Parsons met when Parsons saw Harris perform in 1971, and Harris soon became part of Parsons' band, the Fallen Angels. They were collaborating on his Grievous Angels album and also working on plans for a tour when he passed away. The loss of her musical partner left Harris devastated, and she released "Boulder to Birmingham" on her 1975 album Pieces of the Sky in response to his death -- her first successful release as a solo country artist.
In an unlikely turn of events, Parsons' body disappeared from the Los Angeles airport, where it was waiting to be shipped to Louisiana for a private burial in New Orleans. His road manager, Phil Kaufman, and another friend stole the body from the airport and drove it to Joshua Tree National Park, a place that was significant to Parsons and where Kaufman claimed that Parsons had wished to be cremated. The two men poured gallons of gasoline onto Parsons' corpse and set it on fire. They were later arrested, but only fined $750 for stealing the coffin. Parsons' remains were eventually buried in Metairie, La.
Parsons' influence has continued in the decades since his death, thanks in part to artists, such as Harris, who have championed his work; their collaborations are included on several of his posthumously released albums, including Sleepless Nights and Live 1973. Overall, 10 of Parsons' records have been released since his untimely death, including the most recent collection, Gram Parson Live in New York 1973, which was released in 2014.
In 2018, Byrds members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman teamed up with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives for a tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the last release Parsons was involved with before leaving the band.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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