The premature loss of Keith Whitley is one that rocked country music to its core in 1989. He was one of the most popular new faces in the genre at the time, thanks to an unmistakable voice. When he released the second studio album of his career, Don’t Close Your Eyes in May of 1988, it marked the beginning of a new level of stardom for the Kentucky-native.
On Aug. 13, 1988, Whitley achieved his first number one hit with the title track, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” In the powerful song, Whitley pleads for his lover to forget about her ex and give him a true chance at love.
Not only did the track hit the top of the charts that week, but it was also ranked as Billboard’s No. 1 Country song for the entire year. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was the first of three straight number one hits for the then-32-year-old singer. “When You Say Nothing at All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” rapidly climbed the charts and cemented his place as a true country star.
Unfortunately, no one could predict that Whitley’s promising career would soon be cut short. He died from alcohol poisoning in his home outside of Nashville on May 9, 1989, after years of battling alcoholism. Although his career ended in tragedy, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the amazing musical contributions Whitley gave to us during his life.
The video above shows Whitley performing his hit for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1988. It’s a special and somewhat haunting moment that encapsulates the promise and talent that Whitley held as a musician, pulled away from us all too soon.