Loretta Lynn Survived Multiple Falls and a Stroke Prior to Her Death at 90 — but She Never Gave Up
Loretta Lynn persevered through several health struggles in the years leading up to her death on Tuesday at age 90.
Known for hit singles including "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and "Coal Miner's Daughter," the country icon released dozens of albums and earned three Grammy awards over her 60-plus years in the industry — most of which she spent performing concerts around the United States on tour. However, a series of health issues including a 2017 stroke led Lynn to cease touring after 57 years on the road.
Ahead of Lynn's annual Labor Day concert at her Hurricane Mills, Tennessee ranch in 2016, she announced via her website that she was recovering at home following a recent fall and had to cancel the show. Though her injuries weren't serious, Lynn's doctors advised her to take a break from touring to make a full recovery.
Her sister, Crystal Gayle, ended up taking the stage without Lynn and shared a message from Loretta with the audience. "I injured my chest and can't get a deep enough breath to sing, but I'll update you Monday [Sept. 5] after I see the doctor," Gayle said, according to Taste of Country.
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In May 2017, Lynn was hospitalized after suffering a stroke at her home. At the time, her tour dates were postponed and a statement on her website noted that she was "under medical care" and "expected to make a full recovery." Less than two weeks later, she was moved into a rehabilitation facility, and a message posted to her official Facebook page revealed she was "doing great."
While Lynn was still not well enough by August to attend the preview party celebrating her exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville while recovering, she sent her daughter, Patsy, off with what she called "a piece of me" — the two wedding bands given to her by her late husband, Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn.
"It took her so long to get one, I think he felt she deserved two," Patsy Lynn Russell said as she fingered the two identical bands, each studded with a row of small diamonds. "She took them off her finger and gave them to me today … It's kind of like she gets to go through [the exhibit] with me."
Though Lynn was singing around the home again and back in conversation with her Sony label to release a new album after it was postponed because of the stroke, Russell said her mother's main challenge was regaining her balance. But her progress within the span of six weeks left her family optimistic about her speedy road to recovery.
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Frank Micelotta/Getty Loretta Lynn
"The difference between then and now is night and day," said Lynn's grandson, Anthony Brutto, who summoned the ambulance for his grandmother after the stroke. "It's amazing to see the will and fire she has inside … Nothing can get her down, and nothing will get her down. … She's still witty. She's still very sharp. She's still very funny. When I went over there last week she said she's writing songs and playing the guitar, so it's really awesome to get to see that."
Lynn did everything it takes to get herself back on her feet for the ones she loves most. Her not-to-be-missed attendance at Alan Jackson's Country Music Hall of Fame induction marked her first public appearance in Nashville since her health crisis.
"This is the first time I've been out of the house, Alan," Lynn said after being greeted with a raucous standing ovation by the 800 invited guests. "You're the only thing that've brought me here."
Lynn had been making great strides in her recovery until she suffered a broken hip after a fall at her home on Jan. 1, 2018.
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Rick Diamond/Getty Loretta Lynn
"She had an accident on New Year's Day and fractured her hip," Russell told PEOPLE about her mother's condition at the time. "At my mom's age it's so dangerous when it comes to the hip, so we're all just grateful she seems to be okay. She's up, putting weight on it and starting her rehab now."
The fall may have been caused by playing with a furry friend she'd recently welcomed into her home. "She has a new puppy — we don't really know if she was chasing after the puppy or what, but she slid and fractured her hip. We blame the puppy!" said Patsy with a laugh. "Though the puppy brings smiles so there's that."
In September of the same year, Lynn spoke to PEOPLE about the 2017 stroke. "I wasn't goin' to let it stop me. You just can't sit down and say 'Hey, take me,'" she said at the time.
She then reflected on the sudden realization that she couldn't use her left hand or arm. "It's a very scary thing when you find out you're havin' a stroke," Lynn said. Her legendary voice was intact, but her left side was seriously affected: "Your mind tells you, 'You can!' but your body soon tells you, 'No you can't quite do this,'" she says. "Got to work at it."
Lynn began physical therapy immediately — and with intense determination: "I told the girl that was doing therapy with me, 'Do not help me anymore. The next time you see me, I will be using my hand and arm,' and I was, and she could not believe it."
She was forced to move from the ranch where she had lived with her husband Doo before he died in 1996, to a house closer to doctors in Nashville, but by September, she was feeling good enough to call over a few members of her band for some practice sessions.
Despite a nearly 60-year career singing and performing, it didn't come easy. The stroke had affected Lynn's hearing and her timing, but she says she never thought of giving up: "I always had a different mindset — that I can do this. Just keep it up."
Elsewhere in the interview, Lynn spoke about breaking her hip amid recovery from the stroke. "I think people thought I wouldn't come back from that," she said. "And they're really shocked when I tell them, 'Well, I'm doing good, I'm moving my arms, I'm moving all my parts and I can still sing.'"
Erika Goldring/WireImage Loretta Lynn
Admittedly, she became a little slower after the incidents, as her left side lost some strength and her memory went fuzzy. "Every now and then, I'll look around and think of my home and I'll say, 'Am I at the ranch?' And [my daughter] Patsy will say, 'No, Momma, you're here in Kingston Springs.' And it'll kinda bring me back to reality."
Still, she kept a positive outlook: "As long as you dwell on the bad, it's taking the life away from you that you need to be living."
In October 2018, Lynn was unable to attend the CMT Artists of the Year Awards, during which she was honored. After the show, she explained via Facebook: "I was so disappointed to have missed it because I was sick. After a brief hospital visit, I'm feeling better now and enjoying a weekend of resting up at home."
Though she revealed she was "sick," Lynn did not disclose details about her illness at the time.
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More than a year later, a June 2019 tabloid report insinuated that the then-87-year-old country legend was on her deathbed, prompting Lynn to respond with a video on her Facebook page, confirming that despite her current health complications, she was still alive and well.
"Hey, this says I'm in a nursing home and I'm on my deathbed," she said while looking at the report on an iPad. "You're kidding me! I'm not dead and neither is Willie [Nelson]! Both of us are coming back to life and we're gonna raise hell."
On Tuesday, Lynn's family confirmed her death in a statement, writing, "Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, Oct. 4, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills."
Her cause of death is unknown at this time.