It's been one of Nashville's worst-kept secrets for years, but Ty Herndon has always thought making his sexuality public would equate to career suicide.
"I've dreamed about being in country music since I was six years old," the singer tells Entertainment Tonight. "It's my life, it’s what I do, it's who I am, and I went to great lengths to cover up [being gay] to be a country star."
Those lengths included getting married twice, to "some really amazing young ladies," Herndon says, claiming both ex-wives knew he was gay. "I had a lot of people around me that I trusted... and I was like, 'Hey, you know this about me but the world doesn't. So I'm gonna need to call on your services for a little while.'"
The 52-year-old singer knew as a child he was gay. He came out to close family members when he was in his twenties but never felt comfortable going public until now. Herndon tells People magazine that an Anthony Robbins seminar sparked the courage to come out, as he realized sharing his story might help frightened gay youth.
"I was 10, sitting in church and horrified that I might be a homosexual. Whatever that word meant, I knew that I probably was one," the singer recalls. "And I know there's a lot of those kids still out there. Telling my story is an opportunity to help just one of them."
Herndon's country music story was ignited by his very first single, "What Mattered Most," which went to Number One on the country charts, breaking a record for the most radio adds by a debut single in its first week and clinching impressive sales for his 1995 debut album of the same name. Hits that followed included "Living in a Moment," "A Man Holding On (To a Woman Letting Go)," "It Must Be Love" and "Hands of a Working Man," among several others. But after a three-album hot streak, his fourth album tanked and — coupled with his second divorce, bankruptcy and two lawsuits — brought his personal life down with it. Herndon's drug and alcohol abuse spun out of control, and he finally checked himself into rehab in 2004 — his second attempt at sobriety.
The gay rumors followed Herndon in both good times and bad, as did drug and alcohol problems. He was at the height of his career when he was arrested in a Fort Worth, Texas, park for speed possession and for exposing himself to an undercover police officer. (The latter charge was eventually dropped.) He checked into a drug rehab center the very next day. At the time, the singer claimed he was just urinating in the park, but now he says he was on so many drugs that he doesn't remember his intentions.
Over the past, sober decade, Herndon has continued to release music, including two holiday LPs and a Grammy-nominated contemporary Christian album. His latest release is 2013's Lies I Told Myself, the title track of which now takes on a whole new meaning. It was his first country album in seven years and will reportedly be followed by another new LP next year.
Herndon's full interview with Entertainment Tonight, during which he proudly proclaims to be "an out, proud and happy gay man" — and also discusses his partner of six years — airs tonight (November 20th).