Hank Williams, Jr.'s Near-Fatal Fall Changed The Face Of Country Music

Hank Williams, Jr. during 54th Annual BMI Country Awards. (Rick Diamond/WireImage for BMI Nashville/Getty Images)

Hank Williams, Jr. inherited his father's musical talents, earning him a career that's made him just as legendary as his dad. Ol' Bocephus, as he's known, has had a slew of number-one hits, recorded 50-plus albums, collected numerous awards, and been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it might have all ended one summer day in 1975.

Hank Williams, Jr.'s Tragic Accident

On August 8, 1975, Williams and his pal, Dick Willey, set out to hike Ajax Peak, a 10,000-foot mountain near the Idaho–Montana border. About 1,000 feet below the summit, the two friends came to a snow field, but as Williams crossed it, the snow suddenly gave way under his feet. He plummeted some 500 feet down the mountain, smashing his face on a boulder on the way down and suffering numerous horrific injuries, including fractures to his face and skull, a broken jaw and nose, and knocked-out teeth. One of his eyes even hung free from its smashed socket, and one of his skull fractures was so bad that his brain was exposed.

Ajax Peak. (Dan Nevill/Wikimedia Commons)

A Hard Row To Hoe 

In search of help for his friend, Willey ran frantically up the mountain to a ranger station, where park officials radioed for a helicopter to rescue the country singer from the side of the mountain and fly him to the nearest hospital in Missoula. Doctors initially didn't think Williams would survive his injuries, and in the end, it took more than seven hours of surgery to stabilize him. Over the next two years, he endured nine additional surgeries, including the installation of metal plates, screws, and skin grafts. He was told he may never be able to speak again and certainly not sing.

Williams in 2006. (Andrea Klein/Wikimedia Commons)

A Happy Accident

But Williams proved them wrong. After an arduous rehabilitation effort, he has released nearly two dozen albums in the years since his accident. He grew a beard and donned sunglasses and a cowboy hat for public appearances to cover the scars on his face and head, and though these were initially only practical accessories, they became part of his signature look when he returned to performing.