Final Days Of Bill Haley Were Tragic; Drunk And Alone
A truly insightful look at the final days of one of rock-and-roll’s pioneers can be found in Texas Monthly. Bill Haley will always be fondly recalled from the iconic “Rock Around The Clock”, but as Michael Hall writes in a powerful article the end of the music legend is a tragic story or booze and loneliness.
Bill Haley was a shy boy who dreamed of cowboys, especially singing ones. He was born in Michigan on July 6, 1925, to a Kentucky father who played mandolin and banjo and an English mother who played classical piano and sang. When he was four, doctors botched an operation on his ear and accidentally severed the optic nerve of his left eye. For the rest of his life, that eye would look off in a slightly different direction from his nearsighted right one. Other kids made fun of him, and he became something of a loner. He found comfort in music, and after the family moved to Booth’s Corner, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, he played guitar all the time, especially Gene Autry songs. He was a big, good-looking kid, six feet one and 175 pounds, and at eighteen he formed his first band, the Texas Range Riders. His real talent wasn’t his voice, which was high and thin, but his ear: He could hear a song on the radio and remember the words and the melody. He taught himself to yodel and performed as the Rambling Yodeler. Even in those early days he learned to comb the hair from his cowlick into a big curl over the right side of his forehead. It was distinctive. And it drew attention away from his crippled eye.
But something else was happening too. In May Haley went to South Africa for three weeks of shows that proved to be his last. Martha went with him, so he wasn’t drinking much. But she says he started acting strangely onstage. “One night,” she remembers, “he spent most of the set just talking to the audience, rambling on about things. They were all looking around, embarrassed, like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”