Troy Gentry, whose country duo Montgomery Gentry rose from a Kentucky bar stage to the Grand Ole Opry and weathered a series of tragedies over nearly two decades, was killed Friday in a helicopter crash in New Jersey. He was 50.
The helicopter began experiencing trouble outside Medford, N.J., as it neared the Flying W Airport and Resort, where bandmate Eddie Montgomery awaited, before it went down in a "wooded and swampy area" short of the runway, Medford Police Chief Richard Meder said.
The duo planned to perform at the resort later Friday evening. The helicopter's pilot, who was not identified, also was killed in the crash.
"Troy Gentry's family wishes to acknowledge all of the kind thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy at this time," a post on Montgomery Gentry's website said Friday afternoon.
Gentry was born in Lexington, Ky., but called Nashville home. He was married with two children.
Montgomery Gentry broke into the country scene in 1999 with hit “Hillbilly Shoes” and won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 2000. The duo went on to have hits including “My Town,” “Something to Be Proud Of,” “Where I Come From” and “Gone.” They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.
Gentry was a fan of Kentucky basketball and was dedicated to his wife, Angie, and their daughter, Kaylee. But the duo’s longtime publicist, Craig Campbell, said what defined Gentry professionally is his admiration for country music fans.
“One of the greatest things about those guys is he and (Eddie Montgomery) loved their fans,” Campbell explained. “Everybody says that, but everything they did was for their fans.”
Blake Chancey, former senior vice president of A&R at Sony Music, signed Troy Gentry and Eddie Montgomery to a record deal in 1998 after seeing them play at the Grapevine in Lexington.
“The club was filled with friends and family the night I went to see them,” Chancey recalls. “After the first song, the whole club turned around and looked at me — like they were staring holes through me. I was scared to death. I had to sign them so I could get out of there alive,” he joked.
“I love those guys,” he continued. “I’m beyond words. … My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone.”
Over the course of the duo’s career, Montgomery Gentry released 11 albums, including a greatest hits package and an album that was unique to Cracker Barrel. They charted at least five No. 1 songs, including “Roll with Me” and “Lucky Man.”
Montgomery Gentry’s music was far-reaching, with acclaimed poet Maya Angelou inviting the duo to open for her when she played the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in 2007. Their song “Some People Change” was among her favorites, and she commented that, although the duo was much different from her, they were still her "sons."
After seeing Montgomery Gentry perform on The People’s Choice Awards, actress and singer Queen Latifah rushed to meet them and invited them to appear on her talk show.
With news of Gentry's death on Friday, the country music community expressed its condolences on social media.
Blake Shelton shared on old photo of the two of them performing together that dates back to Shelton’s mullet days. Brad Paisley wrote “God bless you Troy Gentry. Heartbroken and in disbelief.” Chris Young tweeted that he “literally had no words.”
“Have known him for years and played so many shows with him and Eddie … #prayers.”
Gretchen Wilson said, “There is a giant hole in the heart of Country Music today. Bigger than words.”
Gentry’s recent years were marked with loss and struggle. In 2014, he grieved the death of his brother, Keith. Their father, Lloyd Gentry, died Aug. 13 of this year.
Two years ago, the 19-year-old son of Eddie Montgomery died suddenly in an unspecified accident.
Gentry was also by Montgomery’s side as he battled prostate cancer in 2010. That experience gave him insight and courage a few years later when his wife, Angie McClure Gentry, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was eventually declared cancer-free in 2015.
"Angie and I are pretty deeply faithful people,” he told The Tennessean that year.
There were career setbacks, as well. Gentry’s image never fully recovered after a 2004 hunting incident, in which he used a bow and arrow to kill a captive bear in a 3-acre private enclosure. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. In 2010, he faced a new round of criticism after an animal-rights group posted video of the incident. In a public statement, Gentry apologized for “the unethical way the bear was taken.”
“I have learned my lesson, and have paid a huge price, both personally and professionally. Since this happened, I know in my heart that I am a different and better person.”
That same year, Montgomery Gentry was recognized for their charitable work by the Academy of Country Music. They earned the organization’s humanitarian award for their work with the U.S. military, the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Middle Tennessee and St. Jude's Research Hospital, among others.
The duo’s most recent album, “Folks Like Us,” was released in 2015. Last year they re-signed with former label Average Joes Entertainment with immediate plans to work on new music.
Reach Cindy Watts at email@example.com or 615-664-2227 and on Twitter @CindyNWatts.