THE COUNTRY MUSIC OUTLAW RECALLS A VODKA-FUELED ODYSSEY
AS THE U.S. STUMBLED INTO VIETNAM, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN TURNED OUTLAW COUNTRY SINGER KRIS KRISTOFFERSON ALMOST BECAME A CASUALTY OF HIS OWN RENEGADE SPIRIT.
MEL TILLIS AND I were good friends during my first few years in Nashville. One night in 1965, I went to his home already pretty tanked and rang the doorbell. Just as his wife opened the door, I dropped and shattered a fifth of vodka all over the front porch. (I don’t remember the brand, but it was definitely whatever was cheapest at the time.) I can’t imagine why, but she wouldn’t let Mel go out with me that evening.
I decided I would drive up to Fort Campbell and see my old Army company before they flew off to Vietnam. On the way, I blew a tire and rolled my car and ended up hanging upside down, wheels up and still turning, when a police car arrived.
I was pretty sure I was OK, but I thought it would be funny to give them a scare, so I stayed as still and as quiet as I could as they cautiously approached, and I heard one of them say the driver couldn’t possibly have survived that one. Just as they were peering in and sizing up the situation, I yelled as loud as I could, “Get me out of here!”
They about had heart attacks and were so relieved that they didn’t that they offered me a ride to the Army base. I got there just in time to board the plane to Vietnam and say hello and let everyone know that I might as well go with them, since I had just totaled my car and had nothing left to lose.
That got a few claps; then the commanding officer came and told me I had to leave. I managed to find an empty guard booth where I promptly fell asleep.
But for that smashed bottle, I may have killed Mel that night and the world would have been a sadder place.
Kristofferson plays President Andrew Jackson in Texas Rising, the History Channel miniseries detailing the Texas Revolution against Mexico and the rise of the Texas Rangers, premiering May 25.