When the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame announced its 2015 honorees this week, among them was Craig Wiseman, whose tunes have topped the charts more than 20 times. Although he has scored multiple Number Ones with Kenny Chesney (“The Good Stuff,” “She’s Got It All,” “Summertime”), Wiseman’s pen has yielded a quartet of country smashes for Tim McGraw: “Everywhere,” “Where the Green Grass Grows,” “The Cowboy in Me” and “Live Like You Were Dying,” which began a seven-week stretch in Billboard‘s top spot 11 years ago today.
Co-written by Wiseman with Tim Nichols, “Live Like You Were Dying” was based on the true story of a health scare faced by a friend of Nichols and a doctor’s misdiagnosis of one of Wiseman’s close pals. Wiseman also had an uncle who was diagnosed with leukemia and from his hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic called to retire from his job and then booked a shark-diving expedition in Belize.
For Wiseman, keeping it “real” is one of the true hallmarks of country music and one of the songwriter’s most important jobs. “Country is kind of literal,” he once told Rolling Stone Country, “but I like that, because it separates the bullshit from the real thing.”
The song’s “live in the moment” message also certainly resonated with McGraw, whose father, baseball great Tug McGraw, died of brain cancer in January 2004. The elder McGraw was seen in archival footage in the award-winning “Live Like You Were Dying” music video, pitching the final out to capture the 1980 World Series championship for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2004, “Live Like You Were Dying” was the year’s Number One country song, as well as ACM and CMA Single and Song of the Year. In 2005, the tune also earned the Best Country Song Grammy for Wiseman and Nichols.
The worlds of country music, baseball and life-altering moments once again collided on May 25th, 2011, when 17-year-old singer and baseball enthusiast Scotty McCreery competed against another young country artist, 16-year-old Lauren Alaina, for the Season 10 American Idol crown. During the episode, which featured special guests Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood and more, McCreery performed “Live Like You Were Dying” with McGraw, their passionate rendition of the soaring ballad earning a standing ovation from the crowd as well as from Idol judges Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.
“Live Like You Were Dying” was not only a multi-platinum-selling hit on the music charts, it also became a bestselling inspirational book.