Hank Williams was a fresh-faced 25-year-old when he made his historic debut on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry on June 11, 1949.

Williams began playing as a teenager, and he was already earning a reputation as a groundbreaking songwriter and performer before his Opry debut. The country legend had also earned a reputation for hard drinking, which initially discouraged the Opry from booking the young rising star. As Elvis Presley would years later, Williams turned to the Louisiana Hayride to help build his career, and that exposure, in turn, helped "Lovesick Blues" reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1949.

That success prompted the Opry to finally book Williams, who sang "Lovesick Blues" in his first Opry appearance, as well as "Mind Your Own Busines," and it's a matter of country music history that he earned six encores that evening. Future Opry fixture Porter Wagoner was in the audience the night of Williams’ Opry debut, which was actually Wagoner's first time visiting the Opry, and Little Jimmy Dickens later called Williams’ debut “the most memorable Opry performance for me.”

In 1952, after missing numerous scheduled appearances due in part to his heavy drinking, Williams was fired from the Grand Ole Opry. He died just months later on Jan. 1, 1953, and his death was attributed to a heart attack. Many have speculated over the years that Williams' death was brought on by a combination of alcohol and morphine, and what truly happened in the final hours of his life remains one of country music's greatest mysteries.

Sterling Whitaker is a Senior Writer and Senior Editor for Taste of Country. He focuses on celebrity real estate, as well as coverage of Yellowstone and related shows like 1883 and 1923. He's interviewed cast members including Cole Hauser, Kelly Reilly, Sam Elliott and Harrison Ford, and Whitaker is also known for his in-depth interviews with country legends including Don Henley, Rodney Crowell, Trace Adkins, Ronnie Milsap, Ricky Skaggs and more.

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Gallery Credit: Billy Dukes

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