Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams Jr

Hank Williams Jr. 's career began early and nearly ended early, thanks to the legacy of his father, country music legend Hank Williams .

Born on May 26, 1949, in Shreveport, La., Williams grew up with one of the most famous names in music, though his father died when Hank Jr. was only 4. Spurred on by his mother, he was singing his father's songs at venues across the country by age 8.

In 1963, the year his voice began to deepen, his mother signed him to a recording contract. The following year he had a hit with his father's 'Long Gone Lonesome Blues.' He also sang the music for 'Your Cheatin' Heart,' a movie about Williams Sr.

However, Williams Jr. was dissatisfied at being eclipsed by his famous father, and expressed these feelings in his 1966 song 'Standing in the Shadows.' While recording a number of more rock-oriented songs in the late '60s, he struggled with drugs and alcohol, and his substance-abuse problem culminated in a suicide attempt in 1974.

Once clean, he finally began to find his own voice in music, recording Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends with Southern rockers Marshall Tucker and Charlie Daniels . The same year, Williams narrowly survived a mountain-climbing accident in Montana. After two years of recovery, Williams emerged with The New South, an outlaw-country album produced by Waylon Jennings .

With a string of hits and a rowdy image that found expression in partylike concerts, Williams reached the height of his popularity in the '80s.

Though his album sales declined in the '90s as a new wave of country stars emerged, Williams continued to be a popular concert draw. Last year he released Stormy, his first studio album in three years.

Other birthdays Friday: Dave Robbins , 41; Gates Nichols ,

56; and Keith Gattis , 29.