40 Startling Facts You Probably Never Knew About Country Legend Patsy Cline

She’s been lauded as one of the most influential and important women in the history of country music. And while Patsy Cline’s life was cut woefully short, it’s hard to deny that she made an incredible impact during her career. Yet from her troublesome childhood to how she felt about her musical calling, there’s plenty you don’t know about this legendary artist.

40. Her parents had a huge age gap

Cline wasn’t born with her now-famous moniker. In fact, her parents originally named her Virginia Patterson Hensley, and her family and friends simply called her “Ginny.” But perhaps more startling is that her mom, a seamstress, was just 16 years old at the time of her birth. Her father, meanwhile, was a 43-year-old blacksmith.

39. Her childhood heroine was Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple was one of Hollywood’s greatest child stars, earning her first movie contract at just three years old. By six she had won her first Academy Award – an honorary gesture, given her tender age – and she became a millionaire before hitting puberty. What’s more, she was just four years older than Cline. It’s perhaps no wonder, then, that the singer idolized Temple from an early age.

38. She won a tap dancing contest at four years old

Like Temple, Cline experienced her first brush with show business at a very young age. Indeed, at the behest of her mother, she entered a tap dancing contest when she was just four. And her idolization of the already-renowned Temple gave Cline the impetus she needed to not only take part, but to win the competition.

37. She started singing at a young age

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Following her success on the stage, Cline quickly discovered a love for singing. And once again, it was her mother who would prove to be the catalyst. That’s because the youngster would regularly accompany her mom to church, where the pair would sing together. But Cline never had professional lessons. In fact, her vocal talents were entirely self-taught.

36. She learned to play piano by ear

Yes, the precocious minor boasted flexible fingers, which she danced along piano keys at just eight years old. According to The Patsy Cline Story, published online in 2001, one music teacher even advised against formal training for the young girl – given it might stifle her natural talent.

35. She was hospitalized at 13 years old

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As a teenager, Cline suffered a horrific throat infection, brought on by rheumatic fever. Remarkably, she later credited her singing voice to the ordeal. In 1957 she recalled, “I developed a terrible throat infection and my heart even stopped beating. You might say it was my return to the living after several days that launched me as a singer. The fever affected my throat and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith.”

34. Her father left when she was 15

Cline’s parents tied the knot when her mother was just 15 years old. But her father was 27 years her senior and already had children from a previous marriage. In marrying Hilda Patterson, then, he chose to abandon his current family. And he would follow that precedent three decades later, leaving behind Cline and her family when the singer reached the age of 15.

33. She worked odd jobs to support her family

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With her father no longer in the picture, Cline had to pitch in to make ends meet. As a result, she dropped out of school shortly after turning 16, and began working in a poultry plant. More odd jobs quickly followed, including at a drug store and a bus depot. Also, it was around this time that she began singing professionally, hoping to bolster her income with evening and weekend gigs.

32. Her first boyfriend was apparently a married man

Cline’s dismal luck in relationships seemingly started with her very first romantic entanglement. Indeed, as a young woman she found herself falling for a charismatic pianist who was not only ten years her senior, but also happened to be married. And while this mystery man reportedly enjoyed Cline’s company, he never admitted to his dalliance with the future superstar.

31. She got her first break on a “hillbilly” radio station

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Cline’s gigs at clubs and bars eventually landed her an audition for WINC, a radio station in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. At the time, it was regarded as a “hillbilly” outlet, but it gave the budding singer a foot in the door. And by the end of the 1940s, Ginny Hensley had cemented herself as a regular performer for the station.

30. She was initially turned down for the Grand Ole Opry

Cline had long dreamed of performing at the Grand Ole Opry, a live country music show in Nashville, Tennessee. With her radio performances at her heel, then, she decided to audition for the concert in 1948. However, she was only 16 years old at the time, and was consequently turned down for being too young and unpolished.

29. She changed her name in 1952

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Until the early 1950s, Cline had been performing by her birth name, Ginny Hensley. But in 1952 she decided to adapt her middle name, Patterson, into her now-famous forename of Patsy. The idea had come from Bill Peer, the frontman of a swing band Cline partnered with for a number of performances for local radio station WEPM. For now, though, she held onto her maiden name.

28. She married her first husband in 1953

The singer spent roughly a year as Patsy Hensley before marrying her first husband, Gerald Cline, in 1953. The match surprised her friends, who always knew Patsy as someone attracted to drama. Gerald, on the other hand, was a straight-laced construction mogul, whom Patsy herself described as “dull.” However, by the time she filled her friends in on the union, she’d already tied the knot.

27. She had an affair with Bill Peer

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Gerald Cline may have been the stable option for Patsy, but something was seemingly missing from her life. While living with her new husband, then, she embarked on an extramarital affair with her musical partner Peer. This period proved a particularly tumultuous time for Patsy, who was struggling to juggle the demands of her home life with her burgeoning career.

26. She wasn’t happy with her first record deal

At first, Cline had difficulty turning her radio performances into a record deal. But in 1955 she landed a contract with Four Star Records, and the stage was seemingly set for success. However, the contract came with a condition: she could only record tracks penned by the studio’s songwriters. That limited not only her creative freedom, but her earnings potential, and her career stalled.

25. She didn’t like her first hit single

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What little success Cline did find with Four Star Records came with her 1957 single, “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The tune wasn’t written for her, though: in fact, it was originally penned for Kay Starr. Cline didn’t much care for it either, dismissing it as “nothin’ but a little ol’ pop song.” Nevertheless, the track would eventually go on to reach number two on the country charts.

24. She divorced and remarried in the same year

Cline’s success with “Walkin’ After Midnight” earned her plaudits, but also drew the ire of her husband. Indeed, Gerald quickly grew jealous of his wife, and tensions boiled over in January 1957. The couple divorced – but it didn’t take Patsy long to find another suitor. In fact, she’d already met her next husband, linotype operator Charles Dick. The pair tied the knot on September 15 the very same year.

23. She sometimes struggled for cash

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While Cline would eventually become extremely successful, her career was anything but a meteoric rise to the top. She failed to land a follow-up hit to “Walkin’ After Midnight” and now had another mouth to feed after giving birth to a daughter. In the absence of consistent cash flow, Cline was forced to return to making ends meet performing local shows.

22. Radio stations originally ignored “I Fall to Pieces”

“I Fall to Pieces” may be one of Cline’s most recognizable songs today, but it took a while to find its feet. In fact, when it first debuted, most radio stations ignored it altogether. Finally, in August 1961 – seven months since its release – the track reached the top of the country charts. That sluggish ascent was matched only by its slow descent, as the song lingered in the charts.

21. She was in a near-fatal car crash

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Cline barely had a chance to celebrate her first number one single, “I Fall to Pieces,” before disaster struck. On June 14, 1961 the singer was involved in a horrific, head-on car crash that flung her through the windshield. Her injuries subsequently left her hospitalized for a month. In fact, her facial injuries required reconstructive surgery – and many fans presumed her career was over.

20. She had a religious experience while recovering from surgery

In his 2008 biography Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, Ellis Nassour recounted the events following Cline’s near-fatal car collision. And according to the author, the singer had a religious experience in the aftermath of her surgery. He quoted Cline waking up and telling her husband, “Jesus was here, Charlie. Don’t worry. He took my hand and told me, ‘No, not now. I have other things for you to do.’”

19. She found ways to hide her scars

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Cline’s car crash may have been debilitating, but she refused to let it mark the end of her career. However, before she could go back on stage, she had to find ways to cover the permanent scars left by the incident. As a result, the star turned to makeup, wigs and even bandanas to mask the physical reminders of her ordeal.

18. She recorded “Crazy” in one take

Soon after Cline’s car crash, she marched into the recording booth on crutches, determined to lay down her next hit single. The music was pre-recorded – a novelty for the time – which meant Cline only had to provide vocals. And, perhaps even more impressively given her circumstances, the singer needed only one take to record the legendary “Crazy.”

17. “Crazy” was actually written by Willie Nelson

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It might now be known as one of Cline’s biggest hits, but “Crazy” wasn’t actually penned by the singer. In fact, the man responsible for it would go on to become a country music star in his own right. Back then, Willie Nelson was simply known as Hugh Nelson, and it was under that name that he’d written the tune for Paul Buskirk and his Little Men. But Cline clearly did the best version.

16. She performed “Crazy” on crutches

Incredibly, Cline was still reliant on walking aids when she returned to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1961. Once there, she took to the stage to sing “Crazy.” And the reception to the track was phenomenal. Indeed, Cline received not one, not two, but three standing ovations from the audience.

15. Her autograph is rare

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Given Cline’s untimely death at the age of 30, it’s perhaps no surprise that her signature is hard to come by. And that means it’s an eye-wateringly expensive memento. For instance, a collection of letters signed by Cline reportedly sold in 2015 for a whopping $20,000.

14. She had a money-making mantra

Cline was no stranger to overcoming adversity. So when she made it to the top, she knew that she had to be the one calling the shots. In the 1960s, that meant abiding by a simple mantra: “No dough, no show.” Effectively, the singer refused to go on stage unless the venue paid her upfront. She deployed this tactic to ensure that nobody else could steal a cut, which was common at the time.

13. She was a fierce feminist

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Cline didn’t only blaze new trails for womankind in music: she effectively rewrote the gender handbook in all walks of life. Whether through her fashion choices or her relationships, she constantly challenged typical conventions for women in the mid-20th century. What’s more, Cline fought ruthlessly for her fellow female artists, including campaigning for equal radio airtime.

12. She couldn’t read music

Cline’s innate musical talent – she learnt piano by ear at eight years old – meant she never had any need for formal training. And that extended beyond the stringed instrument to every facet of her musical ability. Yes, Cline simply taught herself all her skills, bolstered by the fact that she also had perfect pitch. As a result, she couldn’t actually read music – but clearly, she never needed to.

11. She was close friends with Loretta Lynn

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Cline’s success opened the door for fellow country music pioneer Loretta Lynn, and the singers quickly became close friends. But Lynn’s fondest memory of the late artist is surprisingly quaint. She told Bravo TV, “When I’d go over, she’d be cookin’ for me, and when everything was over and she would start diggin’ in her clothes, finding little old stuff for me to wear, sweaters and stuff. And she’d load me down before the night was over.”

10. She may have been abused as a child

It’s no secret that Cline had a tough childhood. But according to her friends and relatives, it may have been much darker than anyone could have imagined. Indeed, the singer reportedly claimed that her father was a violent and controlling man who sexually abused her as a child. And Cline’s biographer Margaret Jones recounted in 1994 how the star grew up in “a home environment charged with guilt, shame and fear.”

9. She often commented on her imminent death

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Somewhat ominously, Cline was seemingly known for musing on her own demise. For example, she apparently once wrote to a friend, “It’s wonderful – but what do I do for ‘63? It’s getting so even Cline can’t follow Cline.” And only a week before her fatal plane crash, the singer reportedly told fellow musician Ray Walker, “Honey, I’ve had two bad ones [accidents]. The third one will either be a charm or it’ll kill me.”

8. She seemingly predicted her own death

In March 1963 Cline performed at a string of benefit shows in Kansas City. But in the months prior, she’d reportedly experienced premonitions of her own imminent death. As she prepared to fly home, her friend Dottie West offered to drive her instead. But Cline simply said, “Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.” Tragically, those portentous words rang true on March 5, when her plane crashed outside Nashville.

7. Some of her personal items were recovered from the plane crash

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In the aftermath of Cline’s death, authorities recovered several of her personal items from the crash site. And they’ve since become bona fide historical artefacts. For instance, her Confederate flag lighter was once displayed at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Meanwhile, in 2017 Nashville’s Patsy Cline Museum opened its doors, offering curious fans a glimpse at her Elgin wristwatch.

6. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

The Country Music Hall of Fame now includes such venerable female artists as Minnie Pearl and Loretta Lynn. But it was Cline who paved the way for them, becoming the first female solo artist to be given the honor in 1973. Her posthumous induction came 12 years after the Hall of Fame opened ranks. To date, though, the list of inductees is still heavily dominated by male members.

5. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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For decades after her death, the music industry continued to find new ways to honor Cline’s achievements. For example, in 1999 the legendary singer received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her widow Charlie Dick and daughter Julie Fudge both attended the unveiling ceremony on August 3. Fans can now visit Cline’s star – which sits between silver screen stalwarts Yul Brynner and Barry Sullivan – on 6196 Hollywood Blvd.

4. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995

Her life may have been cut short, but Cline achieved much in her three decades. It made sense, then, that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences recognized her contributions to the music industry with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. According to the Grammy awards website, the honor is bestowed on individuals who have made an impact of “outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.”

3. A bell tower was erected in her memory

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Cline’s childhood home on South Kent Street in Winchester, Virginia is now a museum celebrating her life. But it’s not the only mark the singer’s legacy has left on the town. Indeed, at Shenandoah Memorial Park you’ll find a huge bell tower next to her grave, erected in her honor by her legions of fans. The structure now stands to commemorate one of Winchester’s most iconic residents.

2. Loretta Lynn has honored Cline in more ways than one

Given how close they were, it’s no surprise that Lynn was hit particularly hard by Cline’s tragic death. However, the surviving singer has since found multiple ways to honor Cline. For instance, in 1977 she released a tribute album, I Remember Patsy, which featured nine of the country singer’s most famous hits. And one of her daughters is even named Patsy Lynn, bringing together the monikers of two musical legends.

1. She was family-oriented at heart

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Cline may have been one of the greatest musical talents of her generation, but according to her daughter the singer’s career was simply a means to an end. Yes, Julie Fudge told CountryLiving.com in October 2019, “She was very much a hands-on mom. She wanted to be there, and even though she loved her work, it was also something that had to be done. She really would rather have been at home, I believe.”

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