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Gram Parsons

Singer / Songwriter

Born: 5 November 1946
Died: 19 September 1973 (drug overdose)
Birthplace: Winter Haven, Florida
Best known as: The Flying Burrito Brother who helped countrify 1960s rock

Name at birth: Ingram Cecil Connor III

Singer and songwriter Gram Parsons died at the age of 26, after a short but promising career that injected country music into the 1960s rock scene. Parsons came from a well-to-do family in Georgia with a melodramatic flourish: his father, Ingram Cecil "Coon Dog" Connor, was an Army Air Corps flying ace during World War II who committed suicide on Christmas Eve when his son was 12, and Parson's mother, Avis Snively, was heiress to a citrus fortune who died of alcohol poisoning right when her son was graduating high school. (Parsons got his name from his mother's second husband, Robert Parsons.) A guitarist and pianist, Gram Parsons had been in bands in Georgia since his teens, and first recorded in 1964 with the Shilohs. After a semester at Harvard and some time in New York City with the International Submarine Band, Parsons and the band landed in Los Angeles around 1966 and recorded Safe at Home in 1967. The band broke up and Parsons got a short-lived gig as a sideman with The Byrds, touring with the band and recording the 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Between 1968 and 1973, Parsons made a name for himself in the music industry as a country music proselytizer and skilled songwriter who lived the rock and roll lifestyle. He recorded The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969) and Burrito Deluxe (1970) with The Flying Burrito Brothers, and two critically acclaimed solo albums, 1973's GP and Grievous Angel, but never achieved much commercial success. These days, he's remembered as the guy who made country music cool for hippies, and the guy who launched the career of Emmy Lou Harris and paved the way for bands like The Eagles. He's also known as the guy who partied with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and couldn't keep up -- a wayward youth who died after too much booze, cocaine and whatever else (morphine or heroin, they say).

Extra credit: The story of Gram Parson's dead body is the stuff of rock and roll legend. His step-father wanted Parson's body in New Orleans, in an effort to establish residency and use Louisiana law to guarantee a line to his dead wife's citrus fortune. But Gram Parsons had made previous arrangements with his road manager, Phil Kaufman, that he was to be cremated, with his ashes distributed in Joshua Tree National Park in California. Kaufman intercepted the corpse as it left Los Angeles for New Orleans, took it to Cap Rock in the Joshua Tree park and burned it. He was caught and, in the end, paid a $750 fine.

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