I Didn’t Realize Just How Many Celebrities Were From This KY County
If you're famous, and you're from Kentucky, I will always think that is cool. It's a point of pride for the Commonwealth...well, for the most part, I guess. Everyone has an opinion.
When I was a kid, even the briefest mention of Kentucky in a movie or on a TV series was really exciting for me. "They mentioned where I live! They mentioned where I live!" So, it should come as no surprise that I always enjoy learning about native Kentuckians that have hit it big.
Did You Realize How Many Celebrities Came From Muhlenberg County?
But let's narrow the focus. It's one thing to know which luminaries were born in the Bluegrass State, but it's quite another to know what COUNTIES they are from. Case in point...Muhlenberg County.
I can't tell you how many times I've been there. I really can't. So I'm well aware of its multiple native sons...but not all of them. A recent "what the heck" moment led me to search the county, and I found out there are or were far more famous folks from Muhlenberg County than I realized. And I don't know why I'd never heard about some of them.
Singer-songwriter Merle Travis was born in Rosewood KY in 1917 and passed away in 1983 in Oklahoma. Over the course of his career, the Country Music Hall-of-Famer (he was inducted in 1977) sent several songs into the top ten of the Billboard Country Singles chart, including a pair of number one songs--"So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" and "Divorce Me C.O.D."
The Merle Travis Music Center is a popular venue in the heart of Muhlenberg County.
I first became aware of Miles Heizer as a part of the ensemble cast of the Netflix drama series 13 Reasons Why which premiered in 2017. Since I didn't recognize very many of the cast members, I looked them up and learned that Heizer was born in Greenville. I also learned he had a lot of credits prior to the dark high school drama which he discusses here with fellow castmates:
Do you recognize that name? If you don't, it's understandable. While Warren Oates was a big Hollywood star, appearing in tons of movies, he passed away more than 40 years ago. I always thought he was from Louisville, but, no, he was a Depoy KY native who had more than 40 movies in his filmography. Here's Oates in a scene from 1973's Tom Sawyer. I remember it well. (Although I'd forgotten he sang in it.)
I came close to meeting James Best on a couple of occasions but just missed on the opportunity. An accomplished musician as well as an actor, Best was a native of Powderly KY and has nearly 200 credits on his IMDB (Internet Movie Database) page, including a memorable turn on The Andy Griffith Show:
But I think we can all agree that he will be best remembered as bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.
Best died from complications due to pneumonia in 2015. He was 88.
Now, I DID meet John Prine, and I will never forget it. In fact, I got to speak with him on multiple occasions, as he was a frequent performer on the stage of the Everly Brothers Homecoming Festival in Central City. The last of those wonderful, late-summer celebrations happened in 2002. He was just as down-to-earth as you might guess. We talked about music while he picked his guitar waiting to go on. They were really wonderful personal moments I'll always have with me. Here's Prine with fellow Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson performing his signature song "Paradise":
A Kentucky icon, John Prine passed away in 2020 from complications caused by COVID-19.
I just mentioned the Everly Brothers, so you knew they had to be next. They are arguably the most famous celebrities to come from Muhlenberg County. But that sub-header only says "Don Everly," and for good reason. Don was born in the county--in the now-defunct Brownie KY. Phil was actually born in Chicago. Together, they were one of the most successful recording duos of all time. Members of both the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Everly Brothers charted 15 top ten hits from 1957 through 1962. Many of their hits--five went to the top--are enduring classics. That includes one that will always hold a special place in the hearts of my family members, and for this reason. That song is "Wake Up Little Susie."
Phil Everly died in 2014; Don passed in 2021.
Muhlenberg County has always proudly celebrated its musical heritage. And it absolutely should. But, as we've learned, there's a lot of movie and television history that comes from this western Kentucky county...a hidden gem that's given us more entertainment over the last several decades than maybe many of us realized.