Billy Ray Cyrus Doesn’t Drink Anymore: “In Some Ways, Keith Whitley, I Feel Like He Saved My Life”

Billy Ray Cyrus stopped by the Nash Country Daily offices last week to talk about his new album, Thin Line, which drops on Sept. 9.

During the hour-long conversation, Billy Ray also discussed his starring role as Burnin’ Vernon Brownmule on CMT’s Still the King, which was recently picked up for a second season.

As Billy Ray was telling a story about Randy Travis’ role as the sheriff in the pilot episode of Still the King, he revealed an interesting nugget of info about how the alcohol-related death of Keith Whitley in 1989 was a catalyst for his decision to give up drinking alcohol.

Check out a partial transcript of the interview below and check back in next week for more on Billy Ray’s new album.

Billy Ray: During the scene with Randy, I was naked, pretending to be drunk, laying in a creek upside down, and here comes Randy in the sheriff’s car. The rest is history from there. He chased me in the car. We’d laugh in between takes. I’ll never forget that big smile on his face and him saying, “It’s so good to be on this side of the law.”

NCD: You were just pretending to be drunk?

Billy Ray: I was pretending, yeah. I don’t drink. Crazy enough. I don’t drink. I quit in 1992 before the album Some Gave All came out. Trust me, to that point I had drank more than my fair share. It was actually part of my gig. Five nights a week I’d go to the bar and part of my show was to get drunk. That was for our sets. I mean, halfway through the night, people are sending me drinks that are being lit on fire. Oddly, now I play Burnin’ Vernon [laughing]. That was part of the nightly performance. Plus I enjoyed it. Getting that crazy for a decade? Then [I thought about] Keith Whitley’s death [in 1989 from alcohol poisoning]. Keith is from where I’m from up there in eastern Kentucky. In some ways, Keith Whitley, I feel like he saved my life. It was his influence and the fact that I loved Keith Whitley so much that when my chance came, my inner voice, my spirit inside, my intuition, that voice within said, “Cyrus, you’ve worked 10 years to get to this spot and you finally have earned your chance. Are you going to be too drunk to keep up with it? They say your record is going to explode around the world. That’s going to take a lot of work. There’s no way you’re going to be able . . . ” The voice just said, “You’ve got to quit drinking.” I quit. I haven’t had a drop since. But I’ve been thinking about starting back [laughing].

photo courtesy Skipstone Pictures


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