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Loretta Lynn's Incredible Journey: From Poverty To Stardom

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Oct. 4 2022, Published 3:32 p.m. ET

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Country legend Loretta Lynn turned 90 on April 14, and although she’s been counted down and out dozens of times in her life, the star intended to stick around for another ten years —at least!

The songstress survived poverty, loneliness, tragedy and loss — but she didn't waste time feeling sorry for herself. “She’s been through so much, but her attitude is if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” spilled an insider. “She may be pushing 90, but she stays young at heart by keeping busy, taking care of the ranch and going to the folks in town. A positive outlook and strong dose of humor kept Loretta ticking.”

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The insider said Lynn didn't let some aches and pains of aging get her down. She still saddled a horse, and it gave her great pleasure to ride around the ranch and smell the fresh air. “I love people and I love to sing, that’s what keeps me going,” revealed Lynn, who’s worth $65 million and lived in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., a town she largely owns. “You’ve got to continue to grow or you’re just like last night’s cornbread — stale and dry.”

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The Coal Miner’s Daughter from Butcher Holler, Ky., started off dirt poor in a family with eight children who wore old flour sacks to school and went barefoot. The family lived in a one-room cabin with no electricity or running water, and Lynn’s mom, Clara, decorated the walls of the house with pages from a magazine. She named Lynn after the actress Loretta Young and kept a photo of her over her crib. When Lynn was 11 months old, she contracted a severe ear infection that required doctors to drill two holes in her skull to clean out the affected areas. The family couldn’t afford to keep Lynn in the hospital overnight, so every day Clara would walk the ten miles to the medical center for her daughter’s treatment. The illness explains why she didn’t walk until she was four years old, and she wore her hair long to hide the scars.

But the singer said her tough upbringing made her strong, self-sufficient, gritty and capable. Lynn said, “I’ve been around for a long time, but each day holds new surprises.”

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She counted her late father, Ted Webb, as the “most important person in my life.”

“He worked so hard and never complained,” Lynn said. “He always made us feel so loved, and we always knew he loved our mommy. He was kind and tenderhearted. My love for him and my pride in who he was inspired my biggest hit. I’ll always be proud to be a Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Webb died from black lung disease at age 52 in 1959. Lynn's husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn — also known as Doo and Mooney — made two promises to Ted when he married Lynn. First, he said he would never physically harm her. Second, he promised not take her away from her family. He quickly broke both promises. On their wedding night, he reportedly beat Lynn, then moved her all the way to Washington state so he could work in the logging camps. When she was away, her father died. She was overwhelmed with guilt and grief, never suspecting the heartbreak and financial woes in store.

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The first of her six children, Betty Sue, arrived in 1948, when the couple were still in Washington. While Lynn was pregnant, Mooney went to live with another woman, but came back in time for the birth. She went on to have five more — Jack Benny, Clara (aka Cissy), Ernest and twins Peggy and Patsy, along with three miscarriages. In 1975, she wrote a song called “The Pill,” which was denounced by preachers and banned from radio play. But censoring the tune only made it more popular!

Lynn said if she knew about them, she would have eaten birth control pills “like popcorn!” She went on to write a total of 14 songs like “Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” that were banned for being “immoral” — but became megahits!

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Living with Mooney was a constant torment. He left her constantly, drank, physically abused her and even slept with her brother’s wife — but she still stuck with him. “I married Doo when I wasn’t but a child, and he was my life from that day on,” Lynn recalled in her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough: A Memoir. “But as important as my youth and upbringing was, there’s something else that made me stick to Doo. He thought I was something special, more special than anyone else in the world, and never let me forget it. Doo was my security, my safety net. And just remember, I’m explainin’, not excusin’ ... Doo was a good man and a hard worker. But he was an alcoholic, and it affected our marriage all the way through.”

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Lynn also suffered through the deaths of her two oldest children. In 1984, when Jack Benny was 34 years old, he took his horse out on the family ranch and drowned while trying to ford the Duck River. A search party found his lifeless body in the water. Lynn collapsed at his funeral and had to be taken to the hospital. Her best friend Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash in 1963, Mooney died of heart failure in 1996, Lynn’s daughter Betty Sue, died of emphysema in 2013 and her grandson Jeffrey, Jack Benny’s oldest son, died unexpectedly on the family ranch.

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Lynn suffered through years of exhaustion and mental collapse during relentless touring and family tragedies. Most recently, in 2017, she suffered a stroke and in 2018, she fell and broke her hip. She broke her arm in another fall, underwent knee surgery and has been hospitalized with bouts of pneumonia. But she always stood up again. Lynn possessed a strong Christian faith, but she also believed in astrology, her own psychic abilities and even ghosts, which have haunted her property for decades. Her daughters reported seeing Confederate soldiers in the home multiple times when they were young. Jack Benny also recounted a time when a soldier tried to take his boots off!

Lynn later learned the property was the site of a Civil War battle in which 19 soldiers are said to be buried. The singer herself said she has seen a woman in mourning on the property, both inside the home and in the family graveyard. She tried to call upon the spirits of the house once with a seance. She and a group of friends contacted a ghost who said his name was Anderson, who she later discovered was the original owner of the land. He started angrily shaking the table, breaking it and slamming it to the floor! Since then, Lynn moved to another house on the ranch, and now tour guides lead folks through the mansion, and can even stay on the property overnight — if they dare!

Last year, Lynn put out her 50th studio album, Still Woman Enough, and wasn't planning on retiring. “I’ve been around for a long time, but each day holds new surprises,” she said. And although she was sometimes lonely, she still felt grateful for her long and eventful life, tragedies and all. “I wouldn’t have dared ask God for all that He’s given me,” said Lynn. “I couldn’t have done it on my own. I thank God every day for what I have. Every sunrise and sunset is a blessing.”

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