Keith Whitley would have turned 66 this year. Born July 1st, 1955, in Ashland, Kentucky, the country singer died in 1989 from alcohol poisoning. He was 33. Still, the output from his brief career continues to influence fellow artists and inspire fans. An exhibit dedicated to the performer opened at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019, and it’s not a stretch to include him in any conversation about future induction into the hall.
At the start of Whitley’s career as an artist on RCA Records, he made numerous appearance on the Grand Ole Opry as his hit records, including “When You Say Nothing at All,” “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” and “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” the Number One country single of 1988, climbed the charts. At the time of his death, Whitley was unaware that he was just three weeks away from an invitation to become an official Opry member (just as his wife and RCA labelmate Lorrie Morgan had been since 1984).
In this clip from one of his last-ever Opry guest spots — and his final appearance on the Nashville Network’s weekly Grand Ole Opry Live series — Whitley sings a pair of songs from his Don’t Close Your Eyes LP. He performs the now-classic title track, followed by his rendition of the Lefty Frizzell weeper “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” prefacing it by noting that it will soon be released as a single.
That was not meant to be, however, as the final single released in his lifetime, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” would be the last from Don’t Close Your Eyes. Whitley would have three chart-topping hits in his lifetime and two posthumous Number One singles, including “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin’.” He would also be the subject of a hugely successful 1994 tribute album featuring Alison Krauss and Union Station, Alan Jackson, and Joe Diffie.