“With great sadness and grief we announce that Hal passed away peacefully last night at home due to complications of Dementia,” his wife, Andrea, wrote on Ketchum’s Facebook page. “May his music live on forever in your hearts and bring you peace.”
Among those weighing in with appreciation and sorrow were Toby Keith, Rodney Crowell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Chely Wright and LeAnn Rimes. Keith shared a video of himself covering Ketchum’s “Past the Point of Rescue” that he had just posted in May.
In 1991, Ketchum hit his commercial stride with his very first single, “Small Town Saturday Night,” which peaked at No. 2 and became a signature song. The now-defunct trade publication Radio & Records named it the No. 1 country song of the year. His major-label debut album, “Past the Point of Rescue,” was certified gold.
Other hits included “Past the Point of Rescue,” “Sure Love,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll,” “Mama Knows the Highway” and “Stay Forever.”
In February, Texas’ famed Gruene Hall had hosted a livestreamed tribute show in Ketchum’s honor that served as a fundraiser for his health care, with an illustrious guest list that included Lone Star stalwarts like Randy Rogers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Waylon Payne, Lee Roy Parnell, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. “To all the musicians,” Andrea Ketchum posted afterward, “you took time out of your busy schedules to play Hal’s songs in tribute and as he watched the show he kept saying, ‘Wow, those are my friends!’”
His wife first shared details of his condition in April 2019. “I know everyone is wondering why there are no future tour dates, and speculations as to the reason,” Andrea wrote. “Our family would like to share the cause for this. Unfortunately, Hal is suffering from Alzheimer’s/dementia. He has been battling this for some time now, but because of his love for his fans, he continued performing as long as it was possible. Dementia is an exhausting and confusing illness, and now it’s time for Hal to stay home with loved ones. Hal is otherwise healthy and happy, enjoying time with his family and friends.”
Ketchum was invited to become an Opry member in 1994.
New York-reared, but with a love for traditional singers like Buck Owens and Marty Robbins, Ketchum moved to Texas in 1981, and began releasing music independently in 1986. According to his Grand Ole Opry page, he spent nearly 20 years doing carpentry and furniture building before music took off for him.