Ty Herndon Recalls His Mother Buying Him a Coffin After He Relapsed on Crystal Meth: 'She'd Paid for My Funeral'

The country music star has battled addiction for three decades. "It's been a pandemic of my soul," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I've been a walking dead man for a long, long time"

Ty Herndon wants to make a comeback in Nashville. Another one. "It's possible," says CMT host and critic Cody Alan, who's heard Herndon's new album, Jacob, out July 15. He says Nashville is a more forgiving town these days — especially if you've got a good song. "I've always thought that a great three minutes can save anybody."

Herndon, now 60, needs a little bit of saving. Over the 27 years since his debut album — which spawned three No. 1s — he's bounced in and out of Nashville, on and off the charts, and in and out of rehab. He's married two women, lived with two different men, has come out of the closet, relapsed three times, and has battled crystal meth addiction for the better part of three decades. Along the way, he's become a cautionary tale. The Ty Herndon story, the way it's told in Nashville, is almost apocryphal. The morning of my interview with Herndon, I told someone in my Nashville hotel I was interviewing him. "Oh, gosh, Ty Herndon. Man, what a voice. Such a shame. I thought he died." (Google asks the same question, actually.)

Herndon's life, from an Alabama church singer to the Grand Ole Opry to a near suicide in 2020, filled with so many plot twists, the biggest one of all is that he's still alive. "I've surrendered," he said, walking into his dining room and setting down plates heaped with pork chop casserole — his mother's recipe. "I've learned that's the only way I can change my ending."

Country Star Ty Herndon on Addiction, a Suicide Attempt, and How Coming Out Saved His Life
Ty Herndon. Jeremy Ryan

Listen below to an exclusive interview with Ty Herndon on our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

One of Herndon's lowest points occurred when he relapsed on crystal meth in 2004. Since his 1995 debut, he had a few more hits, a greatest hits album, but nothing like his initial success. (He'd managed to survive a scandal where he was arrested for indecent exposure in a Dallas park.)

He had moved to Los Angeles, which had promised a new perspective and maybe work acting and writing music for TV shows. But Herndon remembers this being "the time the music died. My soul flat-lined. I was a whiff of a person that no one recognized. My friends, everyone, they could not get through to me. I might as well have been wrapped in duct tape."

Accustomed to falling back on his charm or talent, nothing delivered. "I was not a man that anyone recognized because I could fake it before. I knew I was at the end of my life. I knew I was never going to get out of this. I was not healable," Herndon says. His crystal meth use increased. "I lost months of my life and never left the house."

Country Star Ty Herndon on Addiction, a Suicide Attempt, and How Coming Out Saved His Life
Ty Herndon. Jeremy Ryan

His mother, whom his friends call Miss Peggy, showed up. "She wanted me to know she had bought my coffin," Herndon remembers. "She'd paid for my funeral. She said, 'Son, this is goodbye. Nobody in your family wants anything to do with you anymore. You should at least have that peace of mind, that you will be buried by your father and that's where you're headed. And I love you.' She kissed me on the cheek. She hugged me tightly and she left and she flew back home."

Herndon thought he was at rock bottom, but fell deeper. "I just remember shutting down. A friend came over and she said, 'Look, man. Get a gun, end it. Or, I want you to know that I've paid for your rehab. I wrote a check. It's paid for. Cumberland Heights, Nashville, Tennessee, you need to go home. You need to die or go home. Either way, you're going home.'" Herndon heard it. "I got on the plane and I came home." He entered treatment and remained sober for 16 years.

Country Star Ty Herndon on Addiction, a Suicide Attempt, and How Coming Out Saved His Life
Ty Herndon. Jeremy Ryan

Did your mom return the coffin? I ask Herndon.

"Are you kidding?" Herndon says with a chuckle. "That's a great reminder for me. The coffin is still paid for and still waiting."

For more from Herndon, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Listen to PEOPLE's full audio interview with country star Ty Herndon on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast.

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