Granger Smith Reflects on Leaving Country Music, Hitting Rock Bottom After Death of Son River (Exclusive)

Granger Smith recalls the life-changing night he sat in his tour bus with a gun in his hand following the death of his 3-year-old son.

The night he hit "rock bottom," Granger Smith surrendered to a higher power. 

In a new interview with ET's Rachel Smith, the country star, who announced in April that he's saying goodbye to the business to pursue ministry, shed light on his decision to step away from his longtime career four years after the death of his 4-year-old son, River

In June 2019, he and wife Amber Bartlett shared the devastating news of their then-youngest son's death from drowning in their home pool. Smith turned to various items to cope with the tragic loss, including alcohol and weed. 

"I would wake up in the middle of the night many times and I would wake up and go, 'I lost my son,' and then I couldn’t go back to sleep. It was every night, so I would take weed in some form so that hopefully I would sleep all night and it worked," he recalled. "It felt good and so then, I thought, well, I might as well go and have in the morning, too, in case something happens at breakfast and then I might as well make sure around lunch time... And then I thought if I don’t have it I’m in trouble and the slideshow's gonna overtake me. And the slideshow was just random images of River, of losing him and whether he’s face down in the pool or I’m holding him or we're going to the hospital or the doctor saying, 'We're gonna lose him.'"

The singer's grief came to a nearly fatal end one night on his tour bus when he was drunk with a gun in his hand. 

"That night on Wildflower in that back bedroom -- that was just as rock bottom as it got to be honest," he said.

Described the singer, "There was one night in Boise, Idaho, where I just wanted to end it all, when the weed wasn’t working anymore and the alcohol couldn’t numb it and self-help certainly couldn’t help anymore cause it takes a level of strength to self-help. And when you don’t have any strength, what do you do? Maybe the only answer is to end it all because maybe that’s where the peace is. Maybe that’s when you can finally rest in that."

Fortunately, his two other children were his saving grace. "I had one thought and it was Lincoln and London, my two kids at home. That was the first thought that hit me," he said. "I thought I just saw their faces and then I said, 'Jesus, help me.'"

Noting he was not as knowledgeable of his religion at the time, Smith called out for his god. "I said, 'Jesus, save me,' and suddenly I felt life sort of stop for the first time. The slideshow stopped. I slid the gun out of my hand and it hit the bank and I fell down on the floor and I was crying and I was horrified at my shame and my guilt and the weakness I was and the lack of strength that I had and the weak man I that I was. It all hit me at once and that was the beginning."

Now, the country music star is preparing to devote himself to his faith full-time after his last show on Aug. 26. "Giving it up now is still a huge sacrifice for me," he said of music, "because I do love it and it is a passion that I've had for a long time, but I just feel like now I have a more important message to give and there’s not enough time to do music."

Instead of life on the road, he said, "This season of my life will be actually being with my family and going to our little local church and learning under our pastor and going to seminary and getting out and speaking occasionally and talking about this book and telling people about my darkest night and how I was saved from that, so that’s where I am right now."

Through that book, Like a River, Smith hopes to encourage others suffering with loss to find the strength to move forward -- which helps him heal in return. 

"Again and again I felt a little healing in me if I was able to say 'Let's go, let's move forward. You can't be stuck anymore,'" he recalled. "'...This  is not helping your love for them by staying stuck in that grief, which is a thief and a liar to you.' Every time I did that, I healed a little bit more inside me and so that led to, well, let's write a book."

In addition to his new book and career change, he's also dad to a third son, Maverick, who was born in August 2021. Named in honor of his late brother, Maverick is the "closest human being there ever was to River," Smith said. 

"He looks like him, he talks like him, he likes the same things. He has blonde hair instead of red. He is so similar and he looks at his picture and he stares at his picture and he says, 'River,'" the singer shared. "I'll never understand that kind of chemistry and how that works, but Maverick will continue to carry on that legacy."

Like a River is out now. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to