Country singer Joe Diffie dies of COVID-19 complications; John Prine has coronavirus

Diffie charted five No. 1 country singles; Prine, 73, has battled cancer twice
John Prine arrives at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019
John Prine arrives at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019

Joe Diffie, a country music star who won Country Music Assn. and Grammy awards and charted five No. 1 country singles in the 1990s, died Sunday from complications of COVID-19. He was 61.

The news was confirmed by Adkins Publicity, which announced his death in a news release. Diffie revealed his positive coronavirus diagnosis on Friday.

The Tulsa native’s career spanned three decades and more than 20 Top 10 hits including “Home,” “If the Devil Danced (in Empty Pockets),” “Third Rock From the Sun,” “John Deere Green” and “Pickup Man.” Diffie also wrote hits for others, including Tim McGraw, Conway Twitty and Jo Dee Messina.

Diffie started out working in the Oklahoma and Texas oil fields. He also drove a cement truck and worked at a foundry, all while flirting with the idea of launching a career in country music.

Several years later, after getting a divorce and losing his job at the foundry, Diffie packed up and moved to Nashville, where he got a job working at the Gibson guitar factory, eventually earning a promotion to quality control specialist.

“When I moved here, I moved with the idea of being an artist,” he said in 1990. “I wanted to hone my songwriting skills. When you come here, it takes a while to be accepted because there are so many people who come to Nashville who are talented but they have some personality flaw or they are not dependable. By hanging around long enough, they find out if you are dependable.”

While at Gibson, Diffie spent nights and weekends recording demo records and was eventually introduced by a coworker to Johnny Slate, who owns a music publishing firm in Nashville. Slate brought the demos to Bob Montgomery of CBS Nashville, who eventually signed Diffie to a contract.

“I know what I look for,” said Diffie when describing his formula for finding the right country song. “It’s something that moves me emotionally or makes me smile, or gets a lump in my throat. It’s something that I have lived.”

“It’s hard to express how good this feels,” said Diffie of his success in 1990. “I’m just a country boy, although that sounds like a cliche. But it’s true; I was raised on a farm. The success is more than I could have ever dreamed of.”

Meanwhile, John Prine, the Maywood, Ill., postman and Army mechanic who went on to become one of the most revered American songwriters of the past half century, is in critical condition “after a sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms,” his official Twitter feed reported Sunday afternoon.

Prine “was hospitalized on Thursday. He was intubated Saturday evening, and continues to receive care, but his situation is critical,” said the note “From the Prine family” on the @JohnPrineMusic Twitter feed.

Prine, 73, has battled cancer twice, in the late 1990s and the early 2010s, and just last month received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.

His 2018 album “Tree of Forgiveness,” his first of original material in 13 years, included guest appearances by Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Amanda Shires, and earned wide critical praise.

The week before the singer’s diagnosis his wife Fiona Whelan Prine said she had tested positive for coronavirus through her Instagram feed and said a test on her husband was indeterminate.

“We wanted to let you know,” the family Twitter post said, “and give you the chance to send on more of that love and support now.”

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

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