Nashville police have said singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle died of a probable drug overdose.
Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron told reporters that the time of death had not been determined, but that officers had discovered his body Sunday. According to the department, they responded to a request for a welfare check from a friend who had not seen Earle since Thursday, and forced their way into the apartment.
There were no signs of foul play, the spokesman affirmed. An autopsy is pending.
The 38-year-old singer’s death was announced by management on social media Sunday night and confirmed by his label, New West, the following day.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin,” read the initial statement on Earle’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. “So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys. You will be missed dearly Justin.”
Speculation had run toward a possible overdose, not just because of Earle’s young age but his past openness about lifelong struggles with addiction.
Earle had revealed in interviews that he had become heavily involved with drugs by the time he was 14, and had multiple experiences with relapsing and rehab. A bio on his website, published when he was 32, referred to “a newfound sobriety. … One day I just realized it’s not cool to die young, and it’s even less cool to die after 30,.”
Earle was named in part after the legendary singer Townes Van Zandt, who was a friend and mentor of his famous father, Steve. The singer grew up in a less affluent part of Nashville, raised by his mother, Carol Ann Hunter Earle, before forming a closer bond with his father as an adult.
Following reports of his death Sunday night, tributes and expressions of shock and sorrow began coming in from artists throughout the music community, such as the Head & the Heart and Margo Price, and also outside it, like writer and fan Stephen King.
On Monday, the singer’s father, Steve Earle, posted his own tribute, which consisted solely of the words “Justin Townes Earle 1982-2020” and a photo of his son spread out across his lap, smiling.
Earle’s most recent album, “The Saint of Lost Causes,” had picked up the singer’s usual strong reviews upon coming out on New West in May 2020, and he had continued to tour behind it up to the point that the pandemic shut down concerts.
In recent years, Earle had discussed living in Portland after becoming disenchanted with his native Nashville. He is survived by his wife, Jenn Marie Maynard, and 3-year-old daughter, Etta James Earle.
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