Trace Adkins Feels 'Fortunate to Still Be Here' After Surviving a Gun Wound and Near-Fatal Accidents

The country star opens up in this week's special PEOPLE Country cover story about channeling his dramatic life into a hot new TV role

Trace Adkins Feels ‘Fortunate to Still Be Here’ After a Gunshot Wound & Multiple Near-Fatal Accidents
Trace Adkins. Photo: JON MORGAN

It's been a lifetime of twists and turns — multiple near-fatal accidents, a gunshot wound, divorces and a struggle with alcoholism, included — for Trace Adkins, but he hasn't lost an ounce of his Southern grit.

"Early in my career, I took my dad out on the road for a week or two, and somebody came up to me and said, 'Your old man reminds me of John Wayne,'" the star recalls in this week's special PEOPLE Country cover story. "I said, 'S---, my old man makes John Wayne look like a [wimp].' I think I'm very much like my daddy was."

That tough-as-nails attitude served Adkins, 60, well as he stepped into the boots of Albie Roman, patriarch of a famous country music family, on Fox's new series Monarch (airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST).

"Playing him hasn't been a stretch," Adkins says. "I'm no stranger to drama. When I heard I'd get to play the patriarch of this incredibly dysfunctional — although successful — family, I was like, 'I'm in.'"

Says Anna Friel, who plays his daughter: "Trace was a true gentleman and a lovely scene partner. He is a wonderful human."

Trace Adkins Feels ‘Fortunate to Still Be Here’ After a Gunshot Wound & Multiple Near-Fatal Accidents
Trace Adkins. JON MORGAN

Born Tracy Darrell Adkins to mom Peggy, a high school teacher, and dad Aaron, a corrugated-box plant worker, in Louisiana, he started playing guitar at age 10. In high school, he sang with a gospel group before attending Louisiana Tech University in Ruston to pursue his other passion: football.

After a knee injury left him unable to play, Adkins dropped out to work on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and marry his high school sweetheart, Barbara Lewis. (They share daughters Tarah, 37, and Sarah, 34.)

"It was assh---s and elbows," he says of his time on the rig. "You worked 12 hours a day, and somebody was breathing down your neck, so you had to work as fast as you could. And then, the next morning, you had to get up and do it again."

Meanwhile, Adkins continued performing locally with his band, Bayou.

"There were no stakes," he recalls. "I could play whatever I wanted to play, say whatever I wanted to say and get as drunk as I wanted to. [In my mind] I was 10 feet tall and bulletproof."

While on the oil rigs, the 6'6" Adkins experienced a slew of scary accidents. In 1982, he almost lost both of his legs after being involved in a bulldozer accident. Less than a year later, a 400-barrel oil tank exploded and crushed his left leg. Then, when Hurricane Chantal hit in 1989, Adkins was stranded with nine other workers in the Gulf of Mexico. At one point, he also cut his pinky off while trying to open a bucket with a knife. (It was later reattached.)

Trace Adkins Feels ‘Fortunate to Still Be Here’ After a Gunshot Wound & Multiple Near-Fatal Accidents
Trace Adkins. courtesy Trace Adkins

Ready for a fresh start, Adkins moved to Nashville in 1992 to give music another shot, but drama followed him there. Two years after relocating, Adkins — who had divorced Lewis in 1990 — was shot while trying to disarm his second wife, Julie Curtis, after she pointed a gun at him when a fight over his drinking turned violent. The bullet went through his heart and both lungs, and he underwent emergency open-heart surgery.

"It wasn't my time to go," says Adkins, who chose not to press charges and still sees a heart doctor for regular checkups. "It was painful, but it didn't sear my memory. The physical pain — broken bones and surgeries and bullets and getting beat up and cut — has never really bothered me. I have a high tolerance for it. It's the broken hearts that left the deepest scars."

Adkins went on to sign to Capitol Nashville Records in 1995. A year later, he released his debut album, Dreamin' Out Loud, which went platinum and spawned four hits. But as he struggled to maintain momentum, his drinking increased.

After Tarah and Sarah and his third wife, Rhonda Forlaw — with whom he shares daughters Mackenzie, 24, Brianna, 21, and Trinity, 17 — staged an intervention in 2001, Adkins entered rehab.

"I had a moment of clarity," he says. "I know it sounds simple, but I just went, 'Wow, I've got the world by the balls. All I got to do is stay sober.'"

Trace Adkins Feels ‘Fortunate to Still Be Here’ After a Gunshot Wound & Multiple Near-Fatal Accidents
Trace Adkins.

Since his breakthrough, Adkins has released 12 more studio albums, sold more than 11 million albums, landed acting roles and even won Celebrity Apprentice in 2013.

"I'm glad I got a record deal when I was 33," he says. "If that had happened when I was 23, I would've blown it. No doubt. I just didn't have the maturity to be able to deal with it."

In 2014, he entered rehab for a second time after getting into a fight on a cruise ship, but Adkins insists he no longer feels the urge to drink.

"I've made mistakes, and I've paid for them," he says. "I try not to make those mistakes anymore."

Adkins credits his fourth wife, Victoria Pratt, 51, whom he married in 2019 and describes as an "angel," as well as his daughters and grandkids with keeping him healthy, both physically and mentally.

"Victoria makes me drink kale smoothies, and she cooks really healthy stuff," he says. "Plus, I do a lot of physical work at home. I feel great."

After all he's weathered, Adkins is thankful to still be standing.

"It's been a wild ride," he says, "and I'm fortunate to still be here."

For all the details on Trace Adkins' "wild ride," pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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