Charley Pride - Country Singer With Bipolar Disorder

Country-Western Star Overcame Bipolar Disorder and Racial Barriers

Singer Charley Pride
Charley Pride lived with bipolar disorder. Getty Images - Redferns - David Redfern

Charley Pride and Bipolar Disorder

Country western star Charley Pride is but one celebrity who has been willing to share his struggles with bipolar disorder, formerly referred to as manic depressive disorder. Thankfully, many people are now feeling the courage to share not only how this disorder impacts their lives, but how they have been able to live happy and successful lives despite the disorder.

Charley Pride History

Country singer Charley Pride was born on March 18, 1938, into a sharecropping family with 11 children. Drawn to the radio music of Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, he acquired a Sears Roebuck guitar and taught himself to play at age 14.

Pride hoped to make his name as a baseball player, and played in the Negro Leagues for some time, entertaining teammates on the bus with his guitar and singing, and gaining stage experience by joining bands in performance from time to time. When it became clear he was not going to be a major league ballplayer, he turned to music.

A trip to Nashville, Tennessee proved lucky. Producer Jack Clement arranged for Pride to make a demo recording of two songs, and when Chet Atkins of RCA Records heard the demo, he offered Pride a recording contract.

In 1966, Charley made his "big break" with the single "The Snakes Crawl at Night." This marked his niche in country music and he went on tour.

At a large public performance in Detroit, Pride's audience was shocked that this idol they had been listening to was black. Despite this initial shocking realization, however, his music prevailed and the rest is history.

He has been married to Rozene since 1956, and they have three children.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms and Impact

Bipolar disorder is a condition which is marked by extreme and sometimes dramatic shifts in mood.

The the symptoms of bipolar disorder are different for each person, but usually include recurrent periods of mania contrasted with others of depression. Since it's normal for people to have changes in mood—and sometimes these are dramatic—the disorder may go undiagnosed for a lengthy period of time, sometimes decades.

A milder constellation of symptoms exists for people with what is now called cyclothymic disorder though 15 to 20 percent of people with cyclothymic disorder do go on to develop bipolar disorder.

The mood shifts present with bipolar disorder often interfere significantly with quality of life, relationships, and work. During manic episodes, people may have little need for sleep, very high energy levels, extreme restlessness, and thoughts they can "hardly keep up with." Depressive episodes are marked by a lack of interest in ordinary activities, difficulty concentrating, and extreme sadness to the point of suicidal thoughts and plans. With bipolar disorder type I, people may also develop symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions.

Even sleep is often disrupted with vivid dreams and nightmares

The symptoms of bipolar disorder not only include emotional symptoms, but many people experience physical symptoms of bipolar depression as well. In fact, the disorder is sometimes diagnosed only after repeated examinations addressing these physical symptoms.

That said, with treatment and excellent mental health care, symptoms can often be controlled, allowing people to live meaningful lives..

Charlie Pride and Bipolar Disorder

"I finally came to terms with manic depression and lithium. I've taken lithium regularly for the past few years and have had no further bouts with manic depression." - Charley Pride

This quote from Charley Pride illustrates what has become true for many people with bipolar disorder. The disorder doesn't just go away—it often requires medications and other treatments—but with management people can often live fulfilling lives.

In his autobiography "Pride: The Charley Pride Story" published in 1994, Mr. Pride shares how he struggled with manic depression for many years. His legacy reveals how managing this struggle allowed him to pursue his career in music, and again, the rest is history.

Charley Pride's Legacy in Music

Pride's second single, "Just Between You and Me," received a Grammy nomination in 1966, and his best known American hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Morning," was released in 1970. His awards fairly tumbled over themselves during the 1970s, and he has remained an important figure in country music to this day. In 1993 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and in 2000 into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Certainly he has been successful in many arenas—he has or has had interests banking, theater (he owns and operates the Charley Pride Theater in Branson, Missouri), real estate, radio and publishing, while enjoying golf and working out each year with the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Other Stars and Celebrities Who Have Lived with Bipolar Disorder

The list of celebrities who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder is long and getting longer. Heartfelt interviews with stars ranging from Ted Turner to Jane Pauley have helped to destigmatize the diagnosis, In fact, a comment in which Jane Pauley was once called the "sanest person in television" illustrates to the public how well the disease can be managed.

Living with Bipolar Disorder

If you are living with bipolar disorder, it's our hope that learning of others who are not only coping but thriving with the disease will bring hope. The stigma is decreasing, but as with most mental health conditions, is far from gone. Here are some tips on explaining bipolar disorder to other people, and in the process, help to reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder one word at at time.


National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. Updated 04/2016.

Continue Reading