Fifty years ago, a somewhat forgotten biopic was made about the life of Hank Williams, Sr. and played by the perpetually tanned one, George Hamilton. Yes, considering Hamilton has been somewhat of a sideliner actor in Hollywood for decades, we forget he was a fairly good lead actor in his early years before tanning beds were created. While 1964’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” didn’t garner any Oscar attention and doesn’t generate considerable play on cable today, it still a fairly compelling biopic that portrayed some of the painful truths about Williams’ life. There’s also plenty of irony in his son, Hank Williams, Jr., supplying the voice of his father in the soundtrack.
With Williams, Jr. even having his own biopic once, his own troubled life looks tame compared to the one his father led in the final years of his life. If films were starting to become more daring by 1964, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” still didn’t get into some of the grittier details of Williams, Sr.’s final years when alcoholism began to take its toll. Nevertheless, the film did reignite interest in his music again, even if there was already a massive resurgence in the year following his death on New Year’s Day, 1953.
In the 50 years since, Hank Williams has perhaps been thought of more as a footnote by the newer generations of country as a groundbreaker. And it’s been decades since the traditional sound of country music managed to climb the country music charts. The evolution of country music can more or less be diagrammed by starting with Hank Williams, the sound of electric in the 1960s and ’70s, followed by country artists evolving into rock stars within the last decade.
To country purists, that’s been more than lamentable, especially since traditional country music is the root core of America’s folk music. Once in a while, a country music artist will do a tribute album in this style, though it’s clear that country as it was once known isn’t anywhere near being even what it was just 20 years ago.
That’s why when Tom Hiddleston plays Hank Williams, Sr. in a new biopic soon, it may bring back interest to a songwriter who we forget wrote more country classics than we ever remembered.
Refreshing Our Memory About Great Songwriters
Musicals on Broadway have recently been on a streak of creating musical biopics about artists we’ve taken for granted and who provided mammoth musical contributions. Broadway’s “Beautiful” about the life of Carole King is a good example of reminding how much of an influence King’s had on songwriting and continues to have. “Jersey Boys” reminded us that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons provided more to pop music than just a few classic hits.
The movies haven’t gone that way quite as much when portraying musical titans. Most movies that have and will take on such giants almost seem superfluous in telling us anything new. Hank Williams was one of those stories that might sound like a contrived template for a biopic, as in an alcoholic with major talent who inevitably destroys himself. This isn’t to say we’ll find some new truths into why major songwriting talents seem so self-destructive and frequently drug or alcohol addicts.
Most of all, a new Williams biopic with Hiddleston in the lead will probably become this decade’s new “Walk the Line” where an actor assimilates the artist as Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. The latter movie set off a new surge of interest in Johnny Cash’s recordings not seen for years when he was alive. He was another traditionalist who was ultimately taken for granted in life, though no longer will be in death.
Once the Williams biopic is made, we’ll finally learn that Hank Williams was really the secret link between country and pop considering his “Cold, Cold Heart” was a #1 pop cover hit in 1951 by Tony Bennett. Covering that alone in the film will be just one detail bringing new interest, plus likely award attention for Hiddleston when we see depicted the very ugly circumstances related to Williams’ death. His tragic death from a heart ailment while riding to a gig in an ice storm was the worst irony in how some artists find their demise in situations you’d find only in a country music song.