Tammy and Judy: A Pair of Pills


“The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.”–Tammy Wynette (page 322)

“I was always lonesome. The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was onstage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend, the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the one place where I felt equal and safe.”–Judy Garland (page 22)

Unintentionally, I began simultaneously reading biographies of Tammy Wynette and Judy Garland: Garland’s while at work and Wynette’s back at home. The one Jimmy McDonough wrote on Wynette in 2010 is a weighty hardcover which I picked it up at the library on a whim, having never been a fan of Wynette. The one on Garland is another meticulous, 70s bio by Anne Edwards, who also wrote the one on Vivien Leigh which I profiled in my previous blog. She published this one on Judy in 1974 before she wrote the one on Vivien in ’77, and I felt like I could tell a vast difference in how much she delved into the subjects’ lives. Or perhaps it was just because Judy isolated herself much more than Vivien and therefore there weren’t as many interviews to be had and insight to be gleaned. I read Lorna Luft’s biography ‘Me and My Shadows’ a couple of months ago, and it offers much more of a picture of what Judy was really like, as opposed to spouting off Judy’s chronic woes and tribulations as Edwards does in her book. Still, Edwards is able to do it unbiasedly, so I learned things from her book that Ms. Luft left out when writing about her mother. It might also be mentioned that McDonough writes about Wynette as a hardcore fan, though he’s written other biographies (such as one on Neil Young) and he interviewed so many people for his book on Wynette that a clear picture is painted of her.

I’ll say this upfront and be clear about it: I was intrigued while reading about both of these talented ladies that–though they each brought so much joy to their millions of fans–they were both so unhappy and lonely. Neither one of them was very sure of themselves and therefore turned to men and pills to bolster their self image. Both of them were married five times, and Tammy–whose signature song was ‘Stand By Your Man’–was also quoted as saying, “How can anybody really believe what I sing about, knowin’ what a mess I’ve made of my life?” (page 181) For most of her life, Judy blamed MGM for getting her hooked on uppers and downers as a child star, not only to perform non-stop but to lose her baby weight. That doesn’t explain why she never quit taking the pills, even after several stays in psych wards and having her children choose not to live with her towards the end of her life. At one point when Judy’s house had been foreclosed on, she delusionally told an interviewer, “Well, if worse comes to worse, I can always pitch a tent in front of the Beverly Hilton and Lorna can sing gospel hymns! That should see us through…Lorna is already showing signs of becoming a fabulous singer.” (page 234) Tammy got hooked on diet pills first and then began taking pain pills after her hysterectomy. She developed such a reputation for faking pain in Nashville that local doctors and hospitals would no longer dole out the painkillers to her, and so she began cancelling shows on the road to con whatever ER she might wander into to supply her with her drugs of choice. Said Tammy’s ex-husband George “Possum” Jones:

“I don’t think [Tammy] was ever content. It seemed like one moment she was happy, another she wasn’t. She was a lonely person, that I’m sure of. She lacked satisfaction or somethin’, and she couldn’t get it all her life.” (page 211)

It’s hard to say anything else about these two great legends which hasn’t already been said countless times before. The one funny parallel I wanted to point out is that Judy had her legion of gay fans and Tammy had her troop of lesbian fans. I would say I wish each of them would’ve gotten the help they needed with their addictions, but Tammy went to Betty Ford and was released after a couple of weeks for emergency surgery. While recovering, she was given a “medal of completion” for addiction treatment by Betty Ford herself and never returned to the center. I can’t help but wonder how much this medal had to do with Tammy being a die-hard Republican all her life, though I hope that’s not the case. I wanted to end by sharing this unfinished song lyric Judy wrote right before she died, in June 1969:

“When you’ve learned and you’ve grown
Through years of just living
Then you’ve earned every right to be
Proud of your years
Not too old, not so young
The quietness of age
Well, then the young man comes along
To smile, to take you up with him
And hold you strong along a way to love…”

Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland was only 47 when she died in 1969 and Virginia Wynette Pugh/Tammy Wynette was only 55 when she passed away in 1998. They were a pair, alright. A pair of pills who unfortunately succumbed to the pills they relied on so heavily. At least now they are both singing sweet songs with the angels.


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