John Prine, Country Folk Legend, Dead at 73 of Coronavirus-Related Complications

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John Prine
Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

John Prine, an Americana and country folk legend, has died of coronavirus-related complications. He was 73.

A rep for the singer confirmed to ET that Prine died on Tuesday, April 7, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

"We join the world in mourning the passing of revered country and folk singer/songwriter John Prine," the Recording Academy said in a statement following the news. "Widely lauded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, John’s impact will continue to inspire musicians for years to come. We send our deepest condolences to his loved ones."

On Mar. 29, the singer's family revealed that he'd tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized since the previous Thursday. Days later, he was intubated, with his family writing that “his situation [was] critical” in a statement posted to Prine’s Twitter account.  

“This is hard news for us to share. But so many of you have loved and supported John over the years, we wanted to let you know, and give you the chance to send out more of that love and support now. And know that we love you, and John loves you,” the statement continued.  

Born Oct. 10, 1946, Prine grew up outside of Chicago, Illinois, where he first learned to play the guitar and later attended Old Town School of Folk Music. By the ‘60s, he became a staple of Chicago’s rising folk scene before being discovered by Kris Kristofferson. 

In 1971, Prine released his self-titled debut album, which features one of his more notable records, “Sam Stone,” as well as standards “Angel from Montgomery” and “Paradise.” In a review at the time, Rolling Stone wrote “this is a very good first album by a very good songwriter. Good songwriters are on the rise, but John Prine is differently good.”

In 2012, the album ranked at No. 452 on the magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. “Prine was a mailman-turned-folk-singer, and his debut is unique in how it views American life with generosity, tolerance and wit,” Rolling Stone wrote.

Songs like “Sam Stone” set the standard for Prine’s humorous musical style that included social commentary and protest music. His subsequent albums would include anti-war records like “The Great Compromise,”  about the country’s disillusionment during the Vietnam War era. 

In total, Prine released 19 studio albums, including 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness. He has been nominated for 11 GRAMMYs and has won two for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991 and 2005. In 2020, the Recording Academy honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

While the singer ultimately succumbed to complications related to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Prine was a notorious survivor. In 1998, he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, which he beat with surgery, radiation therapy and intense recuperation.

Less than two decades later, in 2013, the singer learned he had cancer in his left lung and had surgery to remove it. Six months later, he was back on the road and playing music. In fact, Prine was still touring up until his final months, before the outbreak put an end to his most recent tour.

The Recording Academy paid tribute to Prine via a statement to ET from interim president/CEO, Harvey Mason on Tuesday. "We join the world in mourning the passing of revered country and folk singer/songwriter John Prine," the statement read. "Widely lauded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, John’s impact will continue to inspire musicians for years to come. We send our deepest condolences to his loved ones."

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young also honored the artists memory in a touching statement, sharing, "Made from a mold now broken, John Prine was a walking, grinning argument for human beings as a pretty good species. In John's songs, humor and heartache dance together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. His words and melodies draw chuckles and blood, and tears of sorrow and redemption, all leading to truths widely known but never before articulated. John's mind was a treasure chest, open to us all. We mourn his passing, even as we hold the treasure."

On Mar. 20, his wife, Fiona, revealed that she had tested positive for coronavirus, while the result of Prine’s test was “indeterminate” at the time. 

“There’s a chance he may not have this virus,” Fiona Prine said on Instagram, “and we are working really, really hard and being really diligent about all of the protocols. We are quarantined and isolated from each other and members of the family. It’s hard, I won’t lie, but it’s absolutely important.”

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