On the afternoon of April 12, country singer Lorrie Morgan stood in the bedroom of her sprawling lake house in Hendersonville, Tenn., eagerly slipping in and out of wedding dresses. There were 20 to choose from, but when she got to No. 4—a traditional off-white charmeuse gown—her green eyes filled with tears. “I knew it as soon as I put it on,” says Morgan, 41. “This is the one that I’ve been dreaming about—the veil and everything, it was just perfect. It felt like a first-time wedding for me.”
Only, of course, it’s not. Morgan’s marriage to fellow country star Sammy Kershaw, 43—set for Sept. 29 in a Catholic church in Nashville—will be her fifth walk down the aisle and his fourth. It’s also the result of a two-year extramarital affair that has been fraught with enough scandal to make them both regulars in the gossip page of Nashville’s daily The Tennessean—and to inspire their new album, I Finally Found Someone, a collection of solo numbers and duets that includes a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Says Morgan: “It’s our song. I sometimes make Sammy sing that to me a cappella when we’re driving along.”
Last month Kershaw was busy driving back and forth to the Davidson County Courthouse in Nashville, where his bitter divorce trial from Kim, his wife of 16 years, was unfolding. There Kershaw testified that he began dating Morgan (whom he first met while she was on tour in 1991) in mid-1999 and moved out of his Nashville house that summer. (At the time, Morgan was married to her fourth husband, country singer Jon Randall; they divorced amicably that same year.) In November 1999, Kim filed for divorce because, she says, Kershaw “wouldn’t come home.” The judge awarded Kim primary custody of their children Emily, 7, and Erin, 15, and ordered Kershaw to pay $4,000 a month in alimony and $6,500 in monthly child support.
None of which seems to have deterred the soon-to-be-marrieds, who announced their engagement on Regis and Kelly on April 17. “When you are in your 40s, it’s not like when you are 17 and meet somebody who doesn’t have skeletons in their closets,” says Morgan. “Lord knows, we both have our pasts. That is something we can’t change. [But] we can change what happens from here on.”
Something they won’t want to fiddle with is their love of the romantic gesture. One night, recalls Morgan, “I walked into the bedroom and all over the bed were rose petals, and there were candles and music. It was every girl’s dream.” Says Morgan’s best friend and personal assistant, Debbie Ballentine, 47: “He babies her. It’s funny because here is this very sexy man that has been known to stray in the past. I can’t imagine that he would do that anymore.”
The daughter of late Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan and his wife, Anna, Lorrie was performing with her father by age 13 and found solo success in the late ’80s with her platinum album Leave the Light On. Sammy, born in Kaplan, La., to Minos Kershaw, a carpenter, and his wife, Emily, is a third cousin of famed Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. He landed his first record deal in 1990, topping the country charts with songs like “Cadillac Style.”
Musical roots aren’t all the two have in common: Both are Catholic, Republican and heavy smokers. And both have plenty of experience with marriage. In 1979, Morgan wed bass player Ron Gaddis, with whom she has a daughter, Morgan Anastasia, 20. She also has a son, Jesse, 14, from her second marriage, to singer Keith Whitley, an alcoholic who drank himself to death in 1989. After a two-year marriage to singer Clint Black’s bus driver, Brad Thompson, she dated Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman before marrying Randall in 1996. Kershaw, meanwhile, has two children, Brandon, 26, and Sammie, 24, by his first wife, June Roy. After a brief second marriage in the early ’80s, he wed Kim in 1985.
Now he and Morgan are eager for a fresh start together. They plan to do 30 shows this year, as well as work in their new Nashville restaurant, HotChickens.com, which is getting raves for its spicy chicken and baked beans. “We’re going to grow old together,” says Kershaw. Adds Morgan with a smile: “We talk about that a lot. He wants me to hurry up and lose my teeth.”
Beverly Keel in Hendersonville