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Charlie Rich Burns John Denver's Piece of Paper (1975)

Classic CMA Awards Moments, #3: Charlie Rich Sparks Controversy (1975)

by Blake Boldt

November 7, 2008

#3: Charlie Rich
Traditional vs. Mainstream Country
1975

Presenter Charlie Rich fanned the flames of an ongoing battle between country music’s traditional artists and the pop singers making waves in Nashville when he presented the Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1975.

Rich opened the envelope, read it, and then lit a cigarette lighter and burned the envelope. He announced the winner, “My friend, Mister John Denver.” Though he claimed he had overmedicated, Rich’s presentation appeared to be a strong statement against the pop sensibilities of Denver and his counterparts. Denver, accepting via satellite, was unaware of Rich’s actions, and spoke briefly and humbly about his triumph. Furious, industry insiders never again showed outward support to Rich (he had won five CMA awards in the past). His career cooled considerably after the incident. Even though he continued to produce albums frequently until his semi-retirement in 1981, he never added to his list of five #1 albums.

Neither Denver nor Rich ever received another CMA award. Rich failed to earn another nomination (and was not invited back to the ceremony the next year), and he died at the age of 63 in 1995. Denver was recognized in the Vocal Event of the Year category in 1989, and passed away in an airplane crash in 1997.

Charlie Rich, live performance, “Behind Closed Doors”

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