Country star Eric Church says music saved him after near-fatal blood clot, brother’s death

Country star Eric Church opened up about enduring back-to-back tragedies after a near-death experience.

During a recent interview with “CBS Mornings,” the 46-year-old musician recalled his near-fatal blood clot that required emergency surgery and months of recovery. Following his health crisis, Church fell into a depression as he coped with his devastation over the mass shooting in Las Vegas and mourned the loss of his younger brother Brandon.

“I went through a period there — there was a lot of darkness in that period,” Church said. 

“Eight months,” he continued. “Pretty dark.” 

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Church’s difficulties began in June 2017 when he underwent emergency surgery after doctors discovered a life-threatening blood clot in his chest. 

The “Heart on Fire” hitmaker revealed his harrowing medical ordeal for the first time in a July 2018 interview with Rolling Stone. Church told the outlet he went to the emergency room after experiencing tingling in his hands and swelling in his left arm.  

Church was told to drive to another center for an ultrasound and received his diagnosis. He was then informed he would need surgery immediately.

“The doctor came in, and I said, ‘Bad news?’ and he said, ‘Yep, you have a massive blood clot? I said, ’Can it kill me?’ And he said, ‘Today,’” Church recalled during his interview with “CBS Mornings.”

“It was the first time, I think, in my life I had maybe evaluated my own mortality, one, but then a lot of other people’s mortality, too,’” he said.

Church’s doctors told the 10-time Grammy Award nominee his blood clot was due to a birth defect that caused his first rib to be too close to his collarbone. 

The pressure between the two bones resulted in thoracic outlet syndrome, a group of disorders that occur when certain blood vessels or nerves are compressed, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Church underwent surgery to remove his topmost rib a week after his emergency operation. He spent the rest of the summer in physical therapy and rehab before resuming touring in September 2017.

Church faced another life-changing event less than a month later. Church was the headliner for the first night of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas Sept. 29. A couple of days later, the country music festival became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman opened fire on the crowd from his room at an adjacent hotel.

Sixty people were killed and over 850 people were injured during the shooting. While appearing on “CBS Mornings,” Church recalled struggling with his grief in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“I watched people that night hold up boots and sing at the top of their lungs, and then two days later, it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history,” he recalled. “I had a lot of fans that had stayed over for the weekend to see all the shows that got killed.

“Something about it just kind of broke me. I think it was the sense of what music has been for me along with them, the safe space part of it,” he said of his fans. “I think shattering that shattered a part of me.

“It still is a tough thing.”

Less than a year later, Church’s younger brother Brandon died at the age of 36 after he suffered two seizures and went into cardiac arrest on June 29, 2018. Brandon’s official cause of death was later determined to be due to the “consequences of chronic alcoholism” that resulted in heart and liver damage, according People magazine. 

Brandon was one of Church’s biggest supporters and persuaded him to continue pursuing music when the country star was struggling in the early years of his career. He also co-wrote Church’s hit “How ‘Bout You,” which was featured on his debut album, 2006’s “Sinners Like Me,” as well as “Without You Here,” from his 2009 album “Carolina.”

Church told “CBS Mornings” he found comfort in his love of music while coping with Brandon’s death.

“I got through it like everything else I’ve got through in my life,” he said. “I turned to the one thing I know I can do. I wrote songs.”

Church recently kicked off a 19-date residency at his new bar, restaurant, event space and live music venue Chief’s in Nashville. 

According to its website, Chief’s features “different floors for different experiences” in the “iconic” Leslie Warner Building, which was renovated by Church and co-owner AJ Partners. The rooftop is home to the restaurant Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, which is helmed by Broadway’s first James Beard Award-winning chef, Rodney Scott.

Chief’s, located on Broadway Street in the city’s downtown entertainment district, recently made headlines when Church’s fellow country star Morgan Wallen was arrested for allegedly throwing a chair off the roof of the six-story building.

Wallen, 30, was arrested April 8, three days after Chief’s held its grand opening. The “Wasted On You” singer was charged with three felony counts of reckless endangerment and one count of disorderly conduct.

After Wallen’s arrest, his attorney, Worrick Robinson, told Fox News Digital the musician was “cooperating fully with authorities.” 

Church’s spokesperson, who also represents Wallen, said in a statement to Fox News Digital that the “Springsteen” singer had “no comment” on the arrest.

Last week, Wallen broke his silence on his arrest in a post that he shared on X, formerly Twitter.

“I didn’t feel right publicly checking in until I made amends with some folks,” he wrote. “I’ve touched base with Nashville law enforcement, my family, and the good people at Chief’s.

“I’m not proud of my behavior, and I accept responsibility.”

Wallen’s fans have mostly stood by the country star, and their support was on full display when his collaboration with Church topped the charts following his arrest.

Wallen’s song “Man Made a Bar,” featuring Church, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, earning more than 31 million audience impressions for the week of April 5-11.

The tune, released in 2023, marked Wallen’s 14th No. 1 single and gave Church his 12th No. 1 song. 

During his interview with “CBS Mornings,” Church said he was inspired to hold a residency at Chief’s so he could share the music that had helped him overcome his darkest times.

“What I’m trying to show with the residency here is it was really the songwriting and the songs that nobody’s heard, and I’ve never put on a record because it was too personal. It was too close. I want to play those. I want to say, ‘This is what got me through,’” he explained.

The North Carolina native described performing at Chief’s as a “form of therapy.”

I wanted a place that I could show up at — no cellphones, no recordings — that I could be in the living room setting, and I could play songs that didn’t make albums,” he said.

Church said Chief’s was now his safe space for music after the tragic shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.

“And theirs,” he said, referring to his fans. “And theirs. I hope they feel that.”

Church also marveled over performing at his own bar on Broadway after facing previously rejection on the street famed for its honkey-tonks and country music scene.

“I couldn’t get a gig on Broadway,” he recalled. “Nothing. I couldn’t even bartend on Broadway.

“I was just drawn here, and then I got here, and it wasn’t exactly what I thought. It was fun to be back here now,” he continued. “It was redemptive. I mean, you know, it’s one of those things where I think about it a lot. It’s just a redemptive thing to look at what this is and the care that we put into this place to make it feel that way.

“I started here. I’m here. They can’t kick me out.”


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