Born August 25, 1961, in Flatwoods, KY; son of Ronald Ray (a state legislator) and Ruth Ann (Adkins) Cyrus; married Cindy Smith, 1986 (divorced, 1991); married Leticia Finley, 1993; children: (with Kristen Luckey) Christopher Cody; (with Finley) Destiny Hope. Education: Attended Georgetown College. Addresses: Record company-- Mercury Nashville, 66 Music Square W., Nashville, TN 37203.

Loved by fans, loathed by critics, Billy Ray Cyrus rose from obscurity to country music superstardom in 1992 following the release of his debut album, Some Gave All. Featuring the monster single "Achy Breaky Heart," the album sold nine million copies worldwide and made Cyrus a household name in over 100 languages. The disc enjoyed the longest tenure ever for a debut record in the Number One spot of Billboard' s pop chart--18 weeks--surpassing the mark previously held by the Beatles.

Known far and wide for his ruggedly handsome looks (oft-cited "bad hair" notwithstanding) and swiveling hips, Cyrus has endured a backlash of criticism from detractors who dismiss him as a "flash in the pan." Yet on the heels of a large-scale U.S. and European tour and the release of a second, hugely successful album in 1993, It Won't Be the Last, the award-winning Cyrus seemed to have had the last laugh.

Born in 1961 and raised in the small eastern Kentucky town of Flatwoods, Cyrus got his first taste of singing at the age of four in his father's gospel group, the Crownsmen Quartet. His mother also enjoyed music and often played bluegrass piano for young Billy Ray. Cyrus's paternal grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher who instilled a strong sense of religion in the boy. When he was five years old, Cyrus's parents divorced, he and his older brother, Kevin, remaining with their mother in Flatwoods. Both parents later remarried, giving Cyrus half-siblings on both sides of the family.

As a child, Cyrus was quiet, awkward, and sensitive. He later discovered a "wild streak," however, that would eventually serve him well onstage. An interest in sports led him to play high school baseball and football with a passion. It was during this time that he began the weight-lifting regimen that would define his now-famous physique.

One of Cyrus's earliest role models was Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, but the young man soon realized that he wasn't cut out to be a professional athlete. Following graduation, he attended Kentucky's Georgetown College, where he played baseball until he dropped out during his junior year.

Cyrus's early musical influences were country singers Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Buck Owens, as well as the 1970s rock groups Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and Credence Clearwater Revival. It was in 1982, while attending a Neil Diamond concert, that the 20-year-old Cyrus's intuition told him to pursue music as a career. "I thought I was going crazy for a long time," Cyrus told Marjie McGraw in Country Music, "but after many months of listening to the [inner] voice and ignoring it, I finally went and got a guitar and started a band called Sly Dog. I mean, as soon as I got the guitar, the next day we had a band."

Within a year the band was a popular, if unpolished, attraction at nightclubs in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Following a fire in 1984 that destroyed Sly Dog's equipment, Cyrus pulled up stakes and headed for Los Angeles. There he gained studio experience playing with a band called The Breeze, but he made his living selling cars. Returning to his old stomping grounds in 1986, Cyrus rebuilt his band and began playing five nights a week at the Ragtime Lounge in Huntington, West Virginia.

In 1986 Cyrus married Cindy Smith, whom he had met while performing at a bar in Ironton, Ohio. Though happy for the first few years, the stress of maintaining different schedules eventually took its toll and the couple divorced in 1991 amid rumors of Cyrus's infidelity. In 1992, in fact, Cyrus admitted to fathering two illegitimate children--conceived after his divorce--and readily accepted his "obligations" to both.

During the mid-1980s, while paying his dues in smoky bars, Cyrus traveled as often as possible to Nashville. With a portfolio of photos, songs, and nightclub credentials in hand, Cyrus searched relentlessly for a recording contract. After nearly five years of rejection, his break came in 1988 when Grand Ole Opry star Del Reeves cut his song "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and introduced Cyrus to manager Jack McFadden. Then, in 1989, Buddy Cannon, the Mercury label's Nashville manager of artist recruitment, saw Cyrus open for Reba McEntire at Louisville's Freedom Hall. By 1990, Cyrus had a contract with Mercury. In 1991 he recorded his debut album, Some Gave All, with Sly Dog. The title track was a reference to Vietnam veterans. The album was not released until the following spring.

In an incredibly successful--if daring--marketing ploy, Mercury executives created an audience for their handsome singer by releasing the "Achy Breaky Heart" video prior to the single and introducing a popular line dance that soon swept the country. "Heart," a Don Van Tress update of George Jones's 1962 recording "Aching, Breaking Heart," became the most-requested song on country and pop radio--before its release. It went on to sell over a million copies and received the Country Music Association's single of the year award in 1993.

Cyrus immediately began to endure slings and arrows from both music reviewers and his peers, many of whom argued that the single and Cyrus himself were one-hit novelties. Moreover, he was accused of being more pop-oriented than country--more a product of shrewd marketing than genuine talent. Country singer Waylon Jennings compared him to the late '50s pretty-boy teen idol Fabian. And Travis Tritt publicly denounced Cyrus for reducing country music to an "ass wiggling contest," a comment he would later retract. Cyrus fired back during the American Music Awards telecast in early 1993; onstage to accept the award for best new artist, Cyrus borrowed some lyrics from one of Tritt's hit singles, saying, "For those who don't like 'Achy Breaky Heart,' here's a quarter; call someone who cares."

Country superstar Garth Brooks, however, with whom Cyrus battled for space on the music charts during his long reign at the top in 1992, came out in support of Cyrus. As Brooks told Gary Graff of the Detroit Free Press, "I don't think people know how to react to Billy Ray. The worst thing we can do now is what rock 'n' roll did, which is cut itself up into little bits and be real competitive with each other. Billy Ray's success is just as good for country as anyone else's."

A second single from Some Gave All, "Could've Been Me," became a Top Five hit on the country charts and made some inroads into shoring up Cyrus's ailing critical status. A third single, "Wher'm I Gonna Live," --written after Cyrus's ex-wife had thrown his belongings out on their front lawn--also enjoyed heavy airplay and made Billboard' s Top 10. Two more singles were released but remained further down the charts.

John Morthland, in his Country Music review of Cyrus's second album, summarized the singer's image problem following the release of Some Gave All' s "Achy Breaky Heart," venturing, "I don't think his detractors despise Billy Ray's music so much as they despise what he stands for--the careful grooming, the "dance craze" created to make the record sell, the way every drop of sweat is in place when he does his robotic stage show--but it seems to me that this was all quite inevitable, and if it hadn't been him, it would soon have been someone else."

In February of 1993, Cyrus returned to the studio with Sly Dog to produce the follow-up to Some Gave All. The title track from that effort, "It Won't Be the Last," was apparently inspired by Cyrus's broken marriage, but some observers saw it as a bold message to critics. The band spent two months perfecting the album, as opposed to the two weeks they had spent recording Some Gave All. Released in June of 1993 with great promotional fanfare by Mercury, the disc was certified platinum by mid-September.

Still, critical acclaim continued to elude Cyrus. Billy Altman commented in his People review of It Won't Be the Last, "Cyrus seems to be making a common mistake that rapid-rise performers usually live to regret, namely, believing his own hype.... And therein lies his problem. Over the long haul, country music's lifeblood is the union of singer and song, not of beef and cake." Entertainment Weekly weighed in with this sentiment: " It Won't Be the Last suggests an earnest but generic singer thrust into the big leagues too soon. The songs are a mutant breed of chest-heaving ballads ... and he-man rock guitars supplied by his band Sly Dog. At least three numbers recycle the kick-up-the-dust riff of 'Achy Breaky Heart.' His song 'Throwin' Stones' is literally a string of cliches.... Every so often, though, Cyrus' persona--the sensitive hunk blurting out average-slob sentiments--connects with a good song, and the result nearly makes up for his buffoonery."

Despite the generally negative tone of his comments, Country Music' s Morthland claimed that he intended "neither to praise nor to bury" Cyrus, and charged: "To put it bluntly, Billy Ray doesn't phrase at all; he has no discernible technique, uses none of the fillips with which real singers put their own stamp on their music. In short, the guy's got no personal style whatsoever; he simply mouths the words, and on the louder and faster songs, his producers can either hide or distract from this woeful state of affairs. Favorable comparisons to Elvis--and on 'When I'm Gone,' he's angling for just that--are about as apt as favorable comparisons between weekend adventure hikers and Lewis and Clark." Morthland went on to speculate, "Given today's music-biz politics and economics, I suspect that Billy Ray will come and go just as surely as so many contrived, trend-mongering rockers have done, making a big though short splash, but still offering a little disposable pleasure before disappearing."

Surprisingly, one of the more enthusiastic reviews of It Won't Be the Last came from John Swenson of Rolling Stone, who labeled Cyrus "an Elvis for the '90s," maintaining, "Just as Elvis dragged country music kicking and screaming into rock & roll territory, Cyrus signals another generational change. It Won't Be the Last completes the transition that high-profile country music has been undergoing in recent years to a sound fashioned out of the conventions of '70s arena-rock bands. This transformation has accelerated so rapidly that Cyrus makes his predecessor, Garth Brooks, sound like Grandpa Jones by comparison."

Ultimately, the context in which Billy Ray Cyrus's career will be judged by musical historians is uncertain. Yet one thing is clear: the heartthrob from Flatwoods, Kentucky, will be remembered for--if nothing else--introducing country music to a broader audience. Many in the industry view him as having kicked down the door to the pop mainstream that Garth Brooks had forced open. Trying to keep his goals in perspective, Cyrus told Graff in a Country Music interview: "To look at the achievement of 'Some Gave All' and say I'm going after that, it would be crazy to do that. What I am going to do is concentrate on what I've done the last 11 or 12 years--making my music the way I can. If I concentrate on that, the rest will run its course. And even if the bottom drops out tomorrow, two months later you'll find me in some smoky bar in Kentucky or Tennessee or West Virginia, in some corner, making my music."

by Mary Scott Dye

Billy Ray Cyrus's Career

Formed band Sly Dog, 1982; performed with band The Breeze, Los Angeles, c. 1985; became solo artist, 1986; signed with Mercury Records, 1990; released single "Achy Breaky Heart" and album Some Gave All, 1992.

Billy Ray Cyrus's Awards

Country Music Association citation for single of the year, for "Achy Breaky Heart"; American Music awards for favorite country single, for "Achy Breaky Heart," and for best new artist; five Grammy Award nominations, including record of the year, for "Achy Breaky Heart," and best new artist; World Music Award for best international new artist of the year; and People's Choice Award, all 1993. Platinum single for "Achy Breaky Heart," 1992; multiplatinum album for Some Gave All, 1993, and platinum album for It Won't Be the Last, 1994.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

October 28, 2003: Cyrus' album, Other Side, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_8/country.jsp, October 31, 2003.

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 2 years ago

Having an affair while being married is not being honest. I knew BR when he was singing in the bars. We used to go listen to him, when no one else was playing. He was never our 1st choice. He was only nice to his fans when he was getting paid to. Or I guess when he was getting fringe benefits, too. Add the dates up & it sounds to me like he was seeing 3 if not 4 women at the same time. I saw a Maury Povich show where terminally ill children were given a wish & a little girl's wish was to meet Billy Ray. He sent her an autographed picture and telephoned her from his plane & said a little bit of nothing before hanging up, because he was too busy to give a dying child 1 last wish. That's pretty low. Also, he was too busy to come to a friends funeral, yet his band members were there. He has a son he never mentions, he tried to deny & DNA proved otherwise. He pays child support because he had to. And he never sends his son birthday or Christmas presents. Nor does he call him on these special days. IS that a good person and father? Not in my book. Your child is your child, no matter who their other parent is. The people who knew him back then have not forgotten what we know.

over 3 years ago

With Miley having grown up, I hope Billy Ray will set an example for the nation in how he handles her recent activities. Fame can destroy young people raised in the area he was brought up in. He needs to show Miley some "Tough Love" and save her from herself. Just because he made mistakes, doesn' mean that Miley should be given a free rein. Look what happened to Brittany Spears. Miley deserves better than that.

almost 4 years ago

Billy did what he did aand was man enough to man up, but there is Karma and she has reared her ugly head do unto others as you would have them do unto you is true , now Tish is cheating allegately with Bret Micheals which is very believeable everyone knows Bret will take whats offered, and Tish's record speaks for itself,what goes around comes around and if they do it with you they will do it to you

almost 5 years ago

I think billy is my daddy also did you know my mom name Karen mills from kermit ky in 1980

about 5 years ago

I HAD A FRIEND IN MYRTLE BEACH NAMED DOTTIE AND SHE STATED HER NIECE HAD A SON, NAMED BILLY, BY CYRUS. HE WOULD BE ABOUT 16 NOW. SHE ALSO STATED HER NIECE WAS A KNOCK OUT AND DUMPED BILLY AND SHE WAS FROM WV. ANY TRUTH TO THIS?

about 5 years ago

Hey. I have always been curious. I met a friend in Myrtle Beach named Dotty and she stated Billy fathered her niece's son Billy who was 8 or 9 in 2001. I guess her neice was a knock out and dumped Billy before he was famous. Can anyone verify this is the kids name? She said she was from wv....

about 5 years ago

What a bunch of whiney comments. I was "illegitimate". Then I was adopted. I don't whine about it and I don't take offense. It's a legal definition. In a world of political correctness gone mad, we have become outrageously thin-skinned. So Billy Ray created children outside his marriages. The important thing is that he took responsibility for them. It is not a negative reflection on those kids. Oh...so Mary Scott Dye makes spelling errors (or typos). Get over it! What irrelevant petty whining! Get a life!

over 5 years ago

Hey Jessica, why don't you learn how to spell? Oh that's right I guess your perfect & never made mistakes. Let me tell you something, Billy Ray is more of a man for taking care of his kids then most men in this world. If your big enough to make a mistake then be big enough to own up to it. Which he has.

over 5 years ago

I ve known Billy for about 24yrs now met him when i first retired from the air force he is good friends with my son Jon Hall and daughter Angy Billy always tried to do the right thing and never hid or lied about anything he is a fine young man and worked hard to get where he is remember that old saying he who is without sin let him cast the first stone be happy for Billy Ray and his family I am.

over 5 years ago

No Child illegitimate, I mean was the child have to do with it, they don't have any control. If the parents made a mistake that is their responsibility but the blame doesn't fall on the child no matter how famous they are. You people should be ashamed of yourself.

over 5 years ago

Did Billy Ray Cyrus ever have, early in his career, a manager, helper, friend, whose name was "Brenda" I think he did and she is a relative of mine. Love to know if this is true. Thanks

over 5 years ago

Did someone named "Brenda" help, manage etc., Billy early in his career? I think she may be a relative I have been searching for. Thanks,

about 6 years ago

I think that everybody needs to lay off of the cyrus family regardless of the history of any of them.Everybody has a past and in my opinion I think everyone needs to be happy that they are still down to earth loving people even though they do have fame.And not to mention how much they love their fans.So just back off and think God they are the way that they are.P.S atleast billy is taking responsibility of his kids and then some.How many men in the world do that now days.

over 6 years ago

YA THINK VANITY FAIR PHOTOS WERE BAD OF MILEY, THATS NOTHING COMPARED TO MINE OF BILLY RAY BACKSTAGE AT RAGTIME.

over 6 years ago

it's ashame that people would attack the children of what the parents did, all that matters is that the children of Billy Ray Cyrus are loved, now with that being said get a life

over 6 years ago

It really doesn't matter who the children belong to as long as Billy Ray supports his children. He was a Hottie in the day. I would have been honored to know him when he was single. He is fun, down to earth and A MAN. I just hope the Hannah(Destiny/Miley) does not turn out like Linsey Lohan and Brittany Spears. They started out well with alot of young fans and now look at them now especially Brittany Spears. My 9 year old is obsessed with Hannah Montanna and she is a clean, sweet and lovey young lady. I hope she keeps going with all the Good things she is inspiring young girls with. I think she will because her grandfather was a preacher and that sets the seed of goodnes in her alot. She is 16 now and I have not heard or seen one bad thing from her. Her show on Disney I think will need to go up a notch with her age however it seems to keep the young audience entertained and I love it becaurse she has that country accent and it is not made up. I hope the family succeeds in peace, love, happiness and we all know they will in wealth. LOL

over 6 years ago

Miley's mom (Tish) sure slept around. Unmarried and pregnant 3 times by 3 different men is still considered slutty by today's low standards. Let's hope the apple falls FAR from that tree!

over 6 years ago

Illegitimate? That is harsh! yes both Chris Cyrus and Miley Cyrus were born b4 their parents were married. However BR didnt cheat on Cindy with Kriten Luckey(Chris' ma) nor Leticia Finley(Miley,Braison,Noah's ma). He did have 2 ladies preg @ the same time which is bad. Chris was born april 92. miley was born nov 92. the he married Leticia in dec 92.

over 6 years ago

Miley Cyrus is illegimate. Her mother(Tish) was sleeping around with Billy Ray while he was married to Cindy.

almost 7 years ago

you are great i love the song you wrote about miley i love it bye

almost 7 years ago

married Cindy Smith, 1986 (divorced, 1991); while he was married to her he was havin an afear!!!!!