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40 Years Ago: Jim Croce Dies in Plane Crash

1973 should have been a great year for Jim Croce. The singer-songwriter was garnering major attention with songs used in movies and television (including ‘The Last American Hero’), had landed a couple of folk-rock albums on the pop charts (‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’ and ‘Life and Times’), and had scored his first No. 1 smash hit (‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’).

In the midst of his success, Croce was starting to get burned out. An extensive tour had earned him rave reviews throughout the U.S. and Europe, but it had also prevented him from spending time with his wife, Ingrid, and two-year-old son, Adrian. In the midst of touring to promote ‘Life and Times,’ Croce also was recording his next album, ‘I Got a Name,’ to be released by the end of the year.

The singer had wrapped up the recording sessions and was nearing the end of his tour when tragedy struck on Sept. 20, 1973. Following a gig at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., Croce boarded a small chartered plane to travel to his next show in Sherman, Texas.

Sadly, the plane never made it much past the runway. In what was later described as solely a pilot error, the Beechcraft E18S failed to clear a pecan tree while taking off and crashed. All six people aboard were killed, including Croce, his guitarist Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager/booking agent Kenneth D. Cortose, road manager Dennis Rast and pilot Robert N. Elliott.

Following Croce’s death at age 30, public interest in his music flourished. The single ‘I Got a Name’ was released, as planned, on Sept. 21 – the day after Croce died. It became a Top 10 hit. After being used in a TV movie, ‘Time in a Bottle,’ from Croce’s 1972 album ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,’ was re-released and ended up topping the charts (along with that album) by the end of 1973. It became only the third posthumous #1 of the rock era (following Otis Redding’s ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’ and Janis Joplin’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’

A week after Jim’s death, his widow, Ingrid, received a letter he had mailed while on tour. In it, Croce sounds wearied by his time on the road and expresses a desire to quit the music business and take up other pursuits (movie scripts, short stories) that wouldn’t take him so far from his family. In closing, he wrote, “Remember, it’s the first 60 years that count and I’ve got 30 to go. I love you.”

Next: Top 10 Songs of 1973

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