Luke Bryan is opening up about the tragedies and triumphs that have shaped his life, hoping to inspire others by sharing his journey through grief and unprecedented success.
The five-time Entertainer of the Year has been winning audiences with is catchy lyrics, signature hip swivels, and down-home personality for years. But the road to stardom has been anything but easy for Luke.
In his new IMDb TV docu-series, Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary, the country music superstar takes viewers through his early life, the grit and grind of chasing a music career, and talks openly about tragically losing several of the most important people in his life.
Luke Bryan: The Early Years
Luke Bryan grew up in Leesburg, Georgia, as the youngest of three children (Kelly, Chris and Luke). His family was incredibly close, and the bond that Luke shared with his older brother and sister is something that every parent wishes for their kids.
At just 14 years old, Luke started playing guitar. After a summer trip to Jennings, Louisiana, and seeing another kid his age play the guitar at church, Luke followed suit when he returned to his hometown. He served at his church as a youth leader and began rewriting country songs with Christian lyrics. Soon after, he began writing his own songs.
“My first song was ‘The Day He Turned Me Around,’ and it was a Christian song,” he remembered fondly, recalling the lyrics. “It was just a simple Christian song, but I physically wrote it and performed it in front of my congregation when I was 15, maybe 16.”
He never imagined what a catalyst that song would become for him.
“You don’t realize at the time what you’re laying the groundwork for, but it’s neat to see that piece of paper [now],” he said. “I remember putting it up there on the pulpit and being real nervous,” he recalls.
Luke put a lot of time into songwriting after that, and many of his original songs, or pieces from them, are now reflected in his Dirt Road Diaries album.
At the age of 19, Luke Bryan was preparing to move to Nashville in pursuit of his country music career. That’s when tragedy first struck the family. Luke’s older brother, Chris, died tragically in a car accident at the age of 26.
Devastated, Luke put his Nashville dreams on hold to stay close by his family so they could all grieve together. Instead of pursuing music in a new city, he went to college and started working for his dad’s business. Of course, country music remained his passion, and true calling.
“I was never convinced I’d get back to Nashville, but I didn’t spend time on ‘Should I go or should I not?’” Bryan tells People Magazine. “It was just ‘Not going.’ Your mother had just lost a child. At that point, her youngest son was not going to leave the house. Chris’ dying got me a little more mature.”
But in 2001, with his father’s blessing, Luke set out for Nashville.
The Rise to Fame
He spent years building his career, and finally released his debut album featuring the hit single “All My Friends Say” in 2007.
It was at that time, when Luke had started to make a name for himself, that tragedy struck his family again.
Luke’s older sister, Kelly, was at home with her young son when she passed away suddenly at the age of 39.
Grounded in faith, Luke and his family found comfort in the light that is found only in Jesus.
“The losses gave me such a deep perspective of life; how tough it can get at any second,” he said. “You question it every day, but you have to revert back to your faith in God’s plan.”
The lingering pain that Luke carries with him to this day is the driving force behind songs like “Drink a Beer,” which is a tribute to the passing of both of his siblings.
His music career is nothing short of personal. After enduring tragic and sudden losses, and finding faith in God’s plan, Luke was overwhelmed to be named Entertainer of the Year for the first time in 2013. He performed the tribute song to his siblings just minutes before being honored with the prestigious award and completely broke down in tears on stage.
“As a family, we cried for an hour backstage. There’s been three times in our life where we were that emotional—my brother’s death, my sister’s death and that night. With what we’ve dealt with, it was so fun to have the joy,” he says of the occasion.
Bryan has found continued peace through his Christian faith. He often wishes his sons could’ve met his brother and sister, but reminds himself to trust in God’s plan—not his own.
“My only older siblings…gone from the world, in a flash in two, two different, crazy, tragic manners, that…we’ll never know, and never understand. I don’t like that my sons are missing that side of my family. But someone else is deciding things.”
That couldn’t have been more true in 2014 when the family endured yet another sudden loss. Luke’s brother-in-law, Kelly’s widowed husband, Ben Lee Cheshire, died of a heart attack at just 46 years old. The couple had three children.
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Once again, Luke stuck to his strong values of family and faith. He dropped everything and canceled performances to be with his family in Georgia.
He knows and speaks openly about how his family would not have survived such traumatic losses if it weren’t for their faith in Jesus Christ.
“Your faith has to get you through all that. That’s not saying you don’t question it. But you just have to revert back to your faith in God’s plan, that you’ll be together again and that’s what you have to go on,” he explains.
In the wake of his brother-in-law’s death, Luke and his wife, Caroline, who have two young sons, decided to raise their 13-year-old nephew, Til. The couple asked Til to join their family in Nashville, and his two older sisters visit often. All three Cheshire kids view Luke and Caroline as strong parental figures.
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“We feel like if we just stay positive through this, maybe we’ll be a positive inspiration for people that had these things happen to ’em. You just have to plow on and play the hand that’s dealt,” Luke explained.
Thankfully, Luke has found great purpose in his grief. The 46-year-old knows how futile life can be. “We’re not promised another day,” he says.
He’s found that by sharing his story, others may experience the same joy and freedom he’s found in the wake of such heartbreak.
“If me telling my story moves people down a positive path of hope and getting up out of the bed and getting back going, then it’s certainly worth telling,” he says.
Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary premieres Aug. 6. All five episodes are available exclusively on IMDb TV, Amazon’s premium free streaming service.