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Hank Williams Death Car.
Hank Williams Death Car.

Hank Williams Death Car

Field review by the editors.

Montgomery, Alabama

Hank Williams was country music's first megastar. The prolific musician and performer wrote songs such as "Your Cheatin' Heart," drank too much whiskey, had family problems. He died in the back seat of his Cadillac while being driven to a gig on New Year's Day 1953. Heart failure and hard living did him in. He was only 29.

The Death Car -- its back seat off-limits to everyone -- is the centerpiece of the Hank Williams Museum in his home town of Montgomery. Manager Beth Petty is as protective of the exhibits as she is of Hank's legacy. Most of the displays, memorabilia, and portraits can never be photographed, per the wishes of those who loaned these items to the museum. "We have cameras everywhere," Beth told us. She meant surveillance cameras, ready to spot any smitten Hank fan trying to sneak a shot with a smartphone.

Nudie Death Suit by Nudie.
Nudie Death Suit by Nudie.

The museum is a required stop on any Hank Williams (or country music) pilgrimage. In addition to the car, it displays relics such as Hank's boyhood shoeshine box, a sofa from his house, and the last microphone he ever sang into. Several of his "Nudie suits" are displayed as well, gaudy outfits created by Nudie's Rodeo Tailors of Hollywood. Combined with Hank's custom-made cowboy boots and colorful neckties (also on display) -- and the car -- it's clear that Hank Williams understood bling long before there was a word for it.

Hank was wearing a Nudie suit when he died. It's also on exhibit, and resembles a superhero outfit or a jumpsuit from Space 1999. The Death Car itself, a beautiful 1952 Cadillac, was put to practical use for years after Hank's death by the Williams family. Hank Williams Jr. drove it when he was in high school. Years later he had the car restored and displayed it in his Nashville museum.

On February 8, 1999, the Death Car returned to Montgomery with the opening of the Hank Williams Museum, delighting its founder, Cecil Jackson, who as a teenager had rotated the tires on the vehicle a week before Hank's death. Cecil (who passed away in 2010) commissioned an oil painting of Hank's last departure from Montgomery -- his 17-year-old driver, the Cadillac, and Hank -- which hangs next to the Death Car.

Kawliga - like in the song.
Kawliga - like in the song.

Some friendly advice to visitors who may not grasp all the nuance of country music history: don't mention Hank and Elvis Presley in the same breath. Hank was being driven around in his eggshell blue Cadillac in 1952, long before Elvis purchased his first Pink Cadillac in early 1955. And years before The King, Hank had a pair of blue suede shoes (they're also on display). When we mentioned Elvis to Beth Petty, she quickly put things in perspective. Hank, she said, recorded 225 songs in his brief five year career, a pace that would have blown away Elvis had Hank not died so young. And although Elvis received songwriting credit on several of his hits, Beth was adamant that "Elvis never wrote any of his own music" (Colonel Tom Parker was known to demand that Elvis get cowriting credit in exchange for recording a song).

Also see: Hank's Last Stop | Hank Dead Here | Hank's Astroturf Grave

Hank Williams Death Car

Hank Williams Museum

118 Commerce St., Montgomery, AL
Hank Williams Museum. Downtown, on the east side of Commerce St. just north of Bibb St. Three blocks west of city hall, or seven blocks east of I-65 exit 172.
M-F 9-4:30, Sa 10-4, Su 1-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $15.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Rooftop Sarcophagus of Steiner and LobmanRooftop Sarcophagus of Steiner and Lobman, Montgomery, AL - < 1 mi.
Hank Williams StatueHank Williams Statue, Montgomery, AL - < 1 mi.
Rosa Parks MuseumRosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, AL - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Wright Brothers Flyer Replica, Montgomery, AL - < 1 mi.

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