Charlie Dick, the widower of Patsy Cline, and a man who was very much responsible for helping to keep to artistic legacy of his late wife intact over the years, died in his sleep Sunday morning (Nov. 8). He was 81.
Dick married Cline (whose actual name was Virginia Patterson Hensley) on Sept. 15, 1957, after meeting her the year before at a local dance in Winchester, Va. The second marriage for the singer — already known at the time for her hit “Walkin’ After Midnight,” the union produced two children, Julie and Randy.
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The couple remained married until Cline’s tragic death on March 5, 1963, in an airplane crash just a few miles north of Camden, Tenn. With the relationships that Dick had built in the industry through their marriage, he entered the music business on his own following her passing, working as a record promoter for several independent labels in Nashville throughout the 1960s and 1970s, such as Starday Records. He remarried in 1965 to newcomer Jamey Ryan, but the couple divorced in the early 1970s after having a son together.
Though not in the limelight during her career, Charlie Dick became a pivotal part of keeping Cline’s music alive beginning with Beverly D’Angelo’s portrayal of the singer in the 1980 film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Due to the renewed interest in his wife, Dick — along with MCA Records — began to see a massive reissue campaign of her work, resulting in the continued sales of her 1967 greatest hits album, which ranked as the biggest selling album by a female vocalist in the format until Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me, as well as the essential 1991 MCA box set The Patsy Cline Collection.
The life and career of Cline received interest from HBO Pictures, who produced Sweet Dreams in 1985. The film, which starred Jessica Lange as Cline (with Ed Harris in the role of Charlie Dick), definitely fanned the flame for her music among younger fans, but in an interview from 1997, Dick said it wasn’t completely truthful, especially in the way the film documented their marriage.
“I would say it was about 50 percent true. It was a good movie, if you like fiction. They started out with the truth, but when they got through with it, I don’t know where it went. The basic story is true, but Hollywood adds so much that it winds up getting out of that. It wasn’t a bad movie, there was just a lot of discrepancies with the script, and things like that.”
Dick began a mission to set the story straight, partnering up with Hallway Productions to oversee a pair of video documentaries on her life. The success of The Real Patsy Cline and Remembering Patsy led to his becoming more involved with the company in the 1990s, leading to videos on the lives of such artists as Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb and The Mamas & the Papas.
In 1997, Dick took an active role in the release of Patsy Cline: Live at the Cimarron Ballroom — a July 1961 concert from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was thought to have been long lost.
“I sold our house back in 1966, and left some stuff in the basement with permission. When I saw someone connected with the house a little while later, I mentioned about stopping by and getting it, but they told me there was a flood — and they had to throw what was down there away. I thought that was the end of that, but along about 1992, the tape started floating around and it ended up at a yard sale, or so the story goes,” he surmised. The album, released close to 35 years following her death, made it to No. 32 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, thanks to the able promotion of Dick, who gave many interview to media and radio concerning the release.
Did Charlie Dick expect that fans would still be talking about the music his wife made all of those years later?
“I don’t think any of us did,” he surmised. Country just wasn’t that big at the time. She was just trying to make records that people were hear, and to get to the Grand Ole Opry. That was her main goal, but Owen Bradley cut some great songs on her. Nothing can change that.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.