John Prine has died at 73 following complications with the COVID-19 coronavirus. He was hospitalized last week and was on a ventilator with pneumonia in both lungs. His wife Fiona had been diagnosed with coronavirus in March and recovered. Now, Prine’s family has confirmed to Rolling Stone that he died Monday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Prine was born and raised in Maywood, Illinois; he served in the Army during the Vietnam War and worked as a mailman in Chicago afterwards, which is when he began singing at open mic nights. His first review came courtesy of the legendary Roger Ebert, who happened to catch a show of his at the folk club the Fifth Peg.
His self-titled debut came out in 1971 on Atlantic Records after he was championed by actor and musician Kris Kristofferson. A few songs from that album would go on to be made popular by other singers, including “Angel From Montgomery” and “Paradise.” He followed that album up with 1972’s Diamonds In The Rough, 1973’s Sweet Revenge, and a number of other albums throughout the decade. He was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys in 1973.
Prine’s output would start to slow down in the ’80s. He began his own label, Oh Boy Records, and put out 1984’s Aimless Love and 1986’s German Afternoons. In 1991, he released The Missing Years, which imagined what might have happened between the time Jesus was born and he started his ministry. It won him his first Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
He collaborated on it with Heartbreakers bassist Howard Epstein, who he would also work with on its follow-up, 1995’s Lost Dogs And Missed Blessings. In 1999, he released In Spite Of Ourselves, his first album post-throat cancer. It primarily included covers, and found Prine duetting with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Connie Smith, Trisha Yearwood, and more. His next album of original material wouldn’t arrive until 2005. Fair & Square also won him a Grammy.
In 2010, he was honored with a tribute album that featured artists like My Morning Jacket, the Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, Drive-By Truckers, and Bon Iver covering his songs. He had a considerable following from musicians, including Roger Waters, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan once said. “Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”
Earlier this year, Prine was honored during the Grammys ceremony with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Bonnie Raitt, who covered his “Angel From Montgomery” on her 1974 album Streetlights, sang the song and dedicated it to him. “My friend and hero John Prine, whose sitting right over there, wrote ‘Angel From Montgomery’ and so many other songs that changed my life.”
Prine battled cancer throughout the last two decades — in 1998, he had tissue removed from his throat which significantly altered his voice, and in 2013 he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his lung. His most recent album, The Tree Of Forgiveness, came out in 2018 — it was his first album of original songs in 13 years.