May 25, 1998 12:00 PM

Returning from six weeks on the road some years ago, Nashville singer-songwriter Eddie Rabbitt was dismayed to discover that his kids “were about an inch taller” than they had been when he left. Thereafter, he told Illinois’ State Journal-Register in 1996, he determined to change his ways. “I go out for three or four days and I’m back for a week,” said Rabbitt, who lost his yearlong battle with lung cancer last week at age 56. “So my kids never really feel that Dad’s gone for any deep time.”

The family Rabbitt so cherished—Janine, his wife of 21 years, daughter Demelza, 16, and son Tommy, 11—were among the intimate circle of mourners at the Calvary Cemetery in Nashville, where he was buried May 8 near his baby son Timmy, who died of liver disease in 1985, at 23 months. Diagnosed with cancer early last year, Rabbitt “was courageous up to the end,” says his former manager, Stan Moress. “He was a really compassionate, sympathetic person,” says longtime friend and fiddle player Bill Rehig, who performed “Danny Boy” at the private service. “He was just a sweetheart of a guy.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of Irish immigrant parents, Rabbitt began his unlikely career in country after moving to Nashville in 1968. Despite scoring more than 17 No. 1 country tunes, as well as the 1980 pop hits “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away,” Rabbitt was proudest of his success as a husband and father. After Timmy died, Rabbitt said, “I sort of backed out of the business. It was a time to be with people I love.”

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