The Night Jim Croce Died in a Plane Crash
The year 1973 was shaping up as a great one for Jim Croce. He'd garnered major attention with songs used in movies and television (including The Last American Hero), 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 earned rave reviews throughout the U.S. and Europe, but it also prevented him from spending time with his wife, Ingrid, and their 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.
Croce 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 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.
Listen to Jim Croce Perform 'I Got a Name'
Public interest in his music flourished following Croce’s death at age 30. 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 by the end of 1973, as did the LP. That was only the third posthumous No. 1 single 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 his death, Croce's widow Ingrid received a letter he mailed while on tour. In it, a weary Croce expresses a desire to quit the music business and take up other pursuits including movie scripts and short stories that wouldn’t take him so far from family.
In closing, Croce wrote: “Remember, it’s the first 60 years that count and I’ve got 30 to go. I love you.”