ASHLAND — “He was about a 10-year overnight success,” said the late great DJ Chuck Black.
After many years of driving back and forth from the Tri-State to Nashville, Billy Ray Cyrus skyrocketed to fame with a song that had been rejected by the likes of Ronnie Milsap and the Oak Ridge Boys.
“Achy Breaky Heart,” written by struggling songwriter Don Van Tress, became what the industry calls a “stiff” or a “flop,” after the Marcy Brothers released the song as “Don’t Tell My Heart,” to little fanfare in 1991.
After Cyrus filmed the video for the song on Jan. 21 and 22, 1992, at the Paramount Arts Center, the rest is history.
Cyrus insisted the video be shot in his home area. He also considered filming it at the Ragtime Lounge in Huntington, where he was a popular regular.
The Paramount is a historic place for Cyrus for more than the line dancing video choreographed by Lee Greenwood’s ex-wife Melanie Greenwood.
In 1991 he signed his record contract with Mercury Records there. On Jan. 18, 2005, at one of his Paramount appearances, a future international superstar named Destiny Hope Cyrus warmed up the crowd before her dad came on. Destiny Hope legally changed her name to Miley Ray Cyrus in 2008.
Cyrus didn’t forget his hometown, as he was often on TV sporting a Flatwoods Volunteer Fire Department shirt with the sleeves cut off, covered in the back by a long slinky mullet.
Had Cyrus not made it in music, he had other plans. The 1979 graduate of Russell High School, where he was a receiver on Coach Ivan McGlone’s 1978 state championship football team, studied air conditioning at Russell Vocational School.
The breakout year 1992 was a whirlwind of activity for Cyrus. Everybody wanted to know more about music’s hottest new star. Cyrus was constantly on TV, magazines covers, newspaper front pages or doing radio interviews. On July 2 he surprised fans on NBC’s Today (show) revealing that he recently became a father.
He said the mother was a good friend and he didn’t say who she was to protect the privacy of her and the baby.
Cyrus mentioned arrangements were being made to support the child. The mother was Kristin Luckey from South Carolina. The boy born in the spring of 1992 was named Christopher Cody.
“Achy Breaky Heart” intentionally evaded radio by being shipped to country music clubs when line dancing was at a fever pitch in 1992. Radio noticed and on May 9, 1992, the song debuted on the Billboard Top 100 pop chart, and by May 30, it had climbed to No. 7, its highest peak.
‘Some Gave All’
Over on Billboard’s Country Singles chart “Achy Breaky Heart” spent five weeks at No. 1. On June 6, Cyrus’s first album “Some Gave All,” debuted on the Billboard Top 200 album chart at No. 1, and stayed there for 17 weeks.
Cyrus’s success was far from limited to the U.S. Down under in Australia “Achy Breaky Heart” became the first single to ever go triple platinum there, and was Australia’s biggest selling single in 1992.
“Some Gave All” also had worldwide success. It was the biggest selling album in the USA in 1992 with almost five million copies sold. It’s sold well over 20 million copies worldwide and is the second best-selling debut album ever by a country artist, after Garth Brooks “Ropin’ the Wind.”
That July 4 became possibly the most memorable Independence Day in Tri-State History. Cyrus made his first public appearance of the day at Walmart in Ashland Town Center signing autographs for thousands of fans.
Sly Dog homecoming
That night Cyrus and his band Sly Dog were home performing in front of an estimated 45,000 (roughly the 2017 population of Huntington) tightly squeezed in fans at Summer Motion in Ashland.
It was also a homecoming for Sly Dog with Barton Stevens from Grayson on keyboards, drummer Greg Fletcher from Huntington, Westwood’s own Corky Holbrook on bass and guitarist Michael Sagraves from Ashland.
Fans were ecstatic everywhere on Independence Day except one place. A misprint in a local newspaper said that fans would be able to get up close and personal with Cyrus at a family reunion at Nanette Hardwick’s house in Fort Gay, West Virginia.
Other than that flub-up, the Cyrus Express continued with significant July events. A Welcome to Flatwoods-Home of Billy Ray Cyrus sign was dedicated on the corner of Argillite Road and U.S. 23 on the lot of Fannin Lincoln-Mercury-Toyota.
In a political year the new star was even courted by politicians. Cyrus turned down invitations to perform at the Republican and Democratic conventions. He also turned down an invitation to perform at an event for independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.
Cyrus’s father, Ron Cyrus, was a state representative for Kentucky’s 98th District, and was a delegate at the Democratic Convention that July in New York City.
‘Achy’ top single
On Sept. 30 “Achy Breaky Heart” won Single of the Year at the CMA Awards in Nashville. On Oct. 10, Cyrus honored his contract to perform at Old Fashion Days in Greenup, with a record- setting crowd in attendance.
Cyrus had another child when Hope Destiny Cyrus was born on Nov. 3. Leticia Finley, the proud mother, was a 1985 graduate of Paul G. Blazer High School and a former Tomcat cheerleader. Finley’s parents, Glenmore and Loretta Finley, were longtime owners of Home Supply in Ashland, and at one point had a record store beside it.
On Dec. 15, Cyrus and the cameras from ABC were in a packed gymnasium at Russell High School to film part of his special “Dreams Come True.” Black, his friend and huge supporter of local musicians, accompanied Cyrus in visiting places in the Tri-State that were instrumental in Cyrus’s life for the special.
The “Cyrus Virus” continued well into 1993 in many ways. On January 4, Billboard magazine named “Achy Breaky Heart” the No. 1 Country Single of 1992. Cyrus appeared on the February 13 cover of TV Guide with a legend, turned fan-girl, Reba McEntire, with her arms wrapped around him. Millions of Cyrus fans watched “Dreams Comes True” on ABC on Feb. 17.
It was controlled bedlam at Fan-O-Rama in Russell High School on the first day of the weekend event on October 10. Fans came from as far away as Kansas, Florida and Canada in search of Cyrus memorabilia.
On Oct. 19, Cyrus brought icon Dolly Parton with him to Boyd County Fairgrounds, to perform at a benefit for Cyrus’s newly formed Billy Ray Cyrus Foundation. The weather didn’t cooperate, but Parton performed before a rainstorm ended the show Cyrus promised to make up. Wedding bells were ringing in Tennessee 20 miles south of Nashville, in Williamson County as Cyrus married Finley on Dec. 28.
Too many milestones occurred in the following years to mention. On July 26, 1995, Cyrus was gratified to sing his tribute song to the military, “Some Gave All” at the dedication of the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.
Cyrus took his father’s quartet The Crownsmen with him to perform on Crook and Chase on the Nashville Network on Nov. 17, 1995. The quartet hadn’t performed publicly since 1975, and accompanied Cyrus on “When I’m Gone.”
The song was from Cyrus’s second album. Elvis Presley’s backup group the Jordanaires sang on the song on the album.
Ron Cyrus convinced his son to try acting so he would have variety in his career like Willie Nelson. Here’s just a few of Cyrus’s acting credits. In 1995, Cyrus was on “The Nanny,” and in 1997 he appeared with the legendary Dick Van Dyke in “Diagnosis Murder.”
Cyrus appeared in the critically acclaimed movie “Mullholland Drive” in 2001.
From 2001 to 2004, he played the part of Dr. Clint Cassidy in “Doc.” “Doc” became PAC’s highest-rated show.
March 24, 2006, brought the debut of one of the decade’s most popular shows, “Hannah Montana.” It was the breakout vehicle for Destiny Hope Cyrus. She played student Miley Stewart by day, who transformed into pop star Hannah Montana at night. B.R. Cyrus had the role of Montana’s manager. The show ran until 2011, and spawned “Hannah Montana the Movie” in 2009.
Cyrus sang “The National Anthem” at Game 5 of The World Series in the fall of 2006. On May 8, 2007, Cyrus and his partner, Katrina Smirnoff, were eliminated in the eighth week of “Dancing With the Stars.” In 2008 during his break from filming “The Bill Engval Show,” with another superstar in training, Louisville’s Jennifer Lawrence, Engval co-starred with another Kentuckian, Cyrus, in the movie “Bait Shop.”
In January 2010 “The Spy Next Door,” starring Jackie Chan and Cyrus, was released. Later that year on Oct. 10, Cyrus filed for divorce from Leticia Cyrus. On March 18, 2011, Cyrus announced on “The View” that he had dropped the divorce.
On July 11, 2011, “Surprise Homecoming” made its debut on The Learning Channel. On the show Cyrus surprised military families by uniting them with a family member they think is still serving overseas. In July 2012 Cyrus appeared in a music video for a new song by Bobby Cyrus, Cyrus’s cousin from Louisa.
At the suggestion of Miley Cyrus, B.R. Cyrus recently recorded “Achy Breaky Heart 2.” The record features Ronnie Milsap on keyboards, and rapper Buck 22, son of music legend Dionne Warwicke.
Nashville Predators fans have been treated this season to Cyrus’s recording “Bring the Stanley Cup back to Tennessee.” The song is available for free at billyraycyrus.com/freedownload.