Since their 1999 wedding, Anastasia and Tony Brown have been one of Nashville’s premier power couples: He’s a Music Row icon, a former keyboardist for Elvis who went on to produce everyone from Brooks & Dunn and George Strait to Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood. She made her mark helping to launch Keith Urban‘s career and as a judge on Nashville Star. Together they found romantic harmony. “This relationship, this love, was like a gift from God,” says Tony, 61. “It was almost too good to be true.”
Then on April 11, 2003, the music abruptly stopped: Tony was attending a business dinner in Los Angeles when he tripped and fell down several stairs, hitting the back of his head. The devastating diagnosis: a brain injury so severe doctors warned Anastasia, 41, that if Tony survived he might never be the same. They said that the part of his brain that was injured was the part that affects creativity and emotion,” she recalls. “That’s what Tony is all about. They said he might not be in love with me anymore.” In the months and years that followed, Tony—with support from Anastasia and many of the couple’s famous Nashville friends—made a remarkable physical recovery, and yet something was still very wrong. Finally, in June 2007, Tony was diagnosed with serious depression. Today he credits antidepressant medication and therapy with saving their marriage. “I was wise enough to know that what we had was worth fighting for,” says Tony. “Thank God I had a wife who felt the same way.”
In their own words, the couple share their emotional crisis—and how they got through it.
Tony: “The last thing I remember before the accident is having dinner, then getting up from the table and walking into the lobby. Later, in my mind, I felt like I must have fallen down three flights of stairs, but it was in reality like five stairs.”
Anastasia: “I was at home, sleeping with Chippy, our dog. It was midnight when the phone rang. I picked it up and it was Garth Fundis, a producer who had been at dinner with Tony. He said, ‘Wake up.’ I got that sickness in my stomach. He said, ‘Tony’s had an accident.’ I said, ‘How bad?’ He said, ‘We don’t know if he’s going to make it. You need to get out here.’ I called Tony’s kids [Brennan, 35, and Brandi, 37, with his first wife, Janie Levin]. Then I curled up into the fetal position on the floor of our bathroom and just bawled.
“Garth met me at the airport. We went straight to UCLA Medical Center and just as we got to Tony’s floor, they were wheeling him on a stretcher. His eyes were open, and one tear came down his cheek. I saw him dying right in front of my eyes. I thought, ‘God, I’ll push him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life or mine. Don’t let me lose him.'”
Tony: “I don’t remember anything about UCLA. They told me that Reba came and sang to me and that I cried, but I don’t remember it at all.”
Tony underwent two brain surgeries and was put in a medically induced coma. About a month after the accident, Tony and Anastasia returned to Nashville.
Anastasia: “When he first started to talk, it was really weird, real gravely. One day, I thought he said ‘Chippy.’ I ran and got Chippy and brought him to Tony. I leaned over him and said, ‘Tony, I am so glad you chose to live!’ Very slowly, but very clearly, he said, ‘I chose to live for Chippy.’ For Christmas that year, I had a painting of Chippy made with a plaque that said, ‘I chose to live for Chippy.'”
Gradually Tony recovered, and just four months after the accident he was back in the studio with George Strait. But tension was mounting at home.
Tony: “I was aware something was wrong. But I wasn’t aware that things were as bad as they were. Anastasia would describe me as flat. I wasn’t mad or mean, but I wasn’t happy or excited. I was just flat.”
Anastasia: “We were basically living as roommates. We didn’t even kiss. I didn’t feel pretty. I didn’t feel loved.”
The four-year anniversary of the accident was a dark time.
Anastasia: “Internally, I was mad. I snapped at people. I know I damaged some friendships during that period. At home, I would cry every night before bed, washing my face, and he wouldn’t notice. He had just gotten a new car, and Tony was always a car person, so I asked him if he was loving his new car. He said, ‘It’s all right.’ There was nothing in his voice. I said, ‘Do you feel the same way about me and this marriage as you do about the car?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ It was heartbreaking.”
But Anastasia hung in, finally persuading Tony to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with serious depression and prescribed medication. Anastasia was diagnosed with depression as well.
Anastasia: “Before the accident, wherever we were, we’d be chatting with other people, and then we’d lock eyes, and the whole room would disappear. From the day of the accident until June 2007, we didn’t have that. But then he started holding my hand and we started locking eyes again, and I knew we were back.”
Tony: “Treating the depression has made all the difference in the world. Things are so great. I’m working with Kenny Rogers, on Heidi Newfield’s new solo album and a new album for Lee Ann Womack. With Anastasia and I, it’s back to the way it was—but better, really. We’ve been tested, and we’ve come through it.”