Charley Pride's Son Dion on Mourning His Legendary Father: He 'Never Brought the Stardom' Home
It was Nov. 10, 2020, and Dion Pride was sitting at the kitchen table with his legendary father Charley Pride, talking about their plans for the week.
Having just received a clean health bill from his doctors, the Country Music Hall of Famer was looking forward to leaving the next day to attend the CMA Awards, where he would receive the coveted Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. But he was quick to assure his son that he would be back home two days later.
He returned, but things soon began to change. "It was hard because it was so sudden," Dion tells PEOPLE about the decline in health of his late father, who died on Dec. 12 at the age of 86 from complications with COVID-19. "I never saw him coherent again."
"But there was nothing I didn't say to him that I wanted to. We always said what we felt every time we talked to each other," he adds. "So that part is comforting, but it was hard being with him through that month while he was in hospice. That was the toughest part."
But more than eight months later, it's still tough, he says.
"I was with my mom [Rozene] at that very same kitchen table a couple of days ago," Dion says. "We spent a Sunday together at the house and we ate dinner together. But still, we miss him very badly."
Much of the country music world is still in shock over the death of Charley, a man who forever changed the genre. But it is these very same people that will undoubtedly be comforted by the music and the words that Pride left behind, lovingly showcased in the upcoming special CMT GIANTS: Charley Pride.
"This is so very meaningful to my family," he says of the 90-minute, celebratory show set to air on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on CMT. "As proud as we are of all my dad's accomplishments, this is just something that keeps him alive, so to speak. During the screening, I was glad the lights were off because I teared up several times."
Dion says he was especially touched by the onslaught of legends such as Garth Brooks, George Strait and Wynonna Judd who came out to sing tributes to his late father on the special.
"I was overwhelmed," Pride says of the special that also includes performances from the likes of Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen. "I didn't know if we could get all of those people together in one place. I just don't know how much that happens or how many times that's going to happen again."
"I don't know if there are any words to really describe how powerful it was to see these people, with the stature of their careers and everything, come out of to honor my family and my dad," he adds.
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And while the performances of songs such as "Is Anybody 'Goin to San Antone," "Just Between You and Me" and "Roll on Mississippi" were enough to leave Pride somewhat speechless, he was also incredibly touched to hear his dad's voice again, gently telling the stories of his life.
"He had many stories that were never really exposed," Pride explains of his father whose career included 36 chart-topping country hits. "My father was very humble and grateful for all the doors that were opened for him throughout his life. But as many accomplishments as he had bestowed on him, it still doesn't touch the man that he was. Never did we have a conversation where I didn't learn something. He had so much wisdom."
Much of that wisdom was rooted within his own experience as a Black man in an entirely too-white industry.
"He was a walking example to me that there were no excuses," Dion remembers. "If you live right and your character's right and you work hard, none of the pigmentation aspect of it matters. That was a very valuable lesson for me to learn so early on."
Now, as he continues his father's legacy with his own music, his father's words continue to rattle through his head.
"From an early age, I knew I wanted to do this," explains Pride, who also performed a rousing rendition of his father's 1981 hit "Mountain of Love" on CMT GIANTS: Charley Pride. "So, I always picked his brain. And for the most part, my dad would basically say, 'if you want the answers, here they are.' And I took full advantage of that as much as I could. But truthfully, he never brought the stardom or fame part of his life home."
And while the taping of CMT Giants: Charley Pride brought comfort and a reason for celebration to Pride's family, Pride still admits that the pain remains.
"It's like taking the scab off, you know?" he says quietly. "You relive it every time you see him on that screen."
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