Hank Williams will always be one of Alabama’s favorite native sons. His music created a legacy that is still treasured today.
His death at the age of 29 on New Year’s Day in 1953 in a hotel in Oak Hill, West Virginia left Nashville saddened for the loss of a musical giant.
But just four and a half months before Hank’s passing, Alexander City got a glimpse of the downward spiral brought on by alcoholism and prescription drug abuse that began as Williams struggled to cope with years of back pain.
Aug. 17, 1952 is a day that will live forever in the history of Alexander City. That was the day that Williams was arrested and spent some time in the Alexander City Jail.
The original citation was unearthed several years ago as the Alexander City Police Department was going through old files. That citation has been duplicated and a now hangs in the office of Deputy Chief Jay Turner along with the now famous photo of a bare-chested Williams standing outside of his Alexander City Jail cell.
“Everybody who has lived here has heard the story of him being in jail here,” Turner said. “But to find that paperwork, it shows a lot about what was happening in his life.”
The charges were public drunkenness and disorderly conduct and the paperwork shows an 11:25 arrest time. The 6-1, 150-pound Williams had been at the old Russell Hotel, which is near where Piggly Wiggly sits today, and was making a fuss after a day of traveling and drinking, according to historical accounts.
“I believe he was more or less having DTs,” Chief Winfred Patterson was quoted as saying in “Hank Williams: The Biography” by Colin Escott, George Merritt and William MacEwen.
“He was running up and down the hall of the Russell Hotel yelling that someone was whupping old ladies and he was going to stop them.”
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After a few hours, reports indicate that Darwin Dobbs , who had been hosting Williams and some friends at his Lake Martin lodge, posted a $25 bond and paid the $10 fine and Williams was on his way.
Legend has it that is was after getting out of jail that Hank penned “Kaw-Liga,” which would become a No. 1 song after his death.
Before he became ill, Williams was a regular visitor to Lake Martin and the Alexander City area. His recorded interviews with long-time Alexander City disc jockey Bob McKinnon have survived and are available on YouTube. In 1950, Williams talked with McKinnon about his love for Alabama, Alexander City and the people who called the area home.
“Alabama is my home and always will be,” Williams said “We are kind of partial to the people in Alabama and the good people there in Alexander City. We get back to Montgomery every two or three months and visit my momma. It is sure good to get back home. … I’d like to thank everybody in Alexander City for supporting us and buying our records.”
The legend of Hank Williams may grow even larger.
Sony Pictures is working on a movie based on his life adapted from the book “Hank Williams: The Biography.” The film will be called “I Saw The Light” is expected to be released in November with actor Tom Hiddleston playing the lead role as Williams.