It’s been a life 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 on tour for a week or two, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘Your dad reminds me of John Wayne,'” recalls the star on this week’s PEOPLE Country special. . cover story. “I said, ‘S—, my old man makes John Wayne look like a [wimp].’ I think I’m a lot like my dad.”
That tough-as-nails attitude served the 60-year-old Adkins well when he stepped into the boots of Albie Roman, patriarch of a famous country music family, on the new Fox series. Monarch (airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST).
“Playing him hasn’t been an exaggeration,” says Adkins. “I’m no stranger to drama. When I heard I’d be playing the patriarch of this incredibly dysfunctional, yet successful family, I was like, ‘I’m in.'”
Says Anna Friel, who plays his daughter, “Trace was a true gentleman and a charming stage partner. He’s a wonderful human being.”
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 retired to work on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Lewis. (They share daughters Tarah, 37, and Sarah, 34.)
“It sucked,” he says of his time on the platform. “You were working 12 hours a day and someone 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 to perform locally with his band, the Bayou.
“There were no bets,” he remembers. “I could play what I wanted, say what I wanted and get as drunk as I wanted. [In my mind] It was 10 feet tall and bulletproof.”
While out on the oil rigs, the 6’6″ Adkins experienced a series of terrifying accidents. In 1982, he nearly lost both his legs after being involved in an accident with a bulldozer. Less than a year later, an oil tank exploded. of 400 barrels. 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 little finger while trying to open a bucket with a knife.(It is later rejoined).
Ready for a fresh start, Adkins moved to Nashville in 1992 to give music another go, but drama followed him there. Two years after moving in, Adkins, who had divorced Lewis in 1990, was shot while trying to disarm his second wife, Julie Curtis, after she pulled a gun on him when a fight over his drinking turned violent. The bullet pierced his heart and both lungs, and he underwent emergency open-heart surgery.
“It wasn’t my time to go,” says Adkins, who opted not to press charges and still sees a cardiologist for regular checkups. “It was painful, but it didn’t burn my memory. Physical pain – broken bones, surgeries, bullets and bumps and cuts – has never really bothered me. I have a high tolerance for that. It’s the broken hearts that left the deepest scars.” .
Adkins signed with Capitol Nashville Records in 1995. A year later, he released his debut album, dreaming out loud, which went platinum and spawned four hits. But as he struggled to keep up the 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, had surgery in 2001, Adkins checked into rehab.
“I had a moment of clarity,” he says. “I know it sounds simple, but I just said, ‘Wow, I’ve got the world by the balls. All I have to do is stay sober.'”
Since his breakthrough, Adkins has released 12 more studio albums, sold over 11 million albums, landed acting roles and even won celebrity trainee in 2013.
“I’m glad I got a record deal when I was 33,” he says. “If that had happened when I was 23 years old, I would have blown it. For sure. I just didn’t have the maturity to be able to deal with it.”
In 2014, he checked into rehab for the second time after getting into a fight on a cruise ship, but Adkins insists he no longer feels the need 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 their daughters and grandchildren for keeping him healthy, both physically and mentally.
“Victoria makes me drink kale smoothies and cooks really healthy things,” she says. “Also, I do a lot of physical work at home. I feel great.”
After all he’s endured, Adkins is thankful he’s still on his feet.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he says, “and I’m lucky to still be here.”
For all the details on Trace Adkins’ “Wild Ride,” check out the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands worldwide Friday.