Country singer Brantley Gilbert's success hasn't come easy. In 2011, he found himself in a rehab center, suffering from substance abuse but desperate to leave and return to his old ways. It wasn't until fellow singer Keith Urban stepped in that Gilbert finally changed his mind.
Gilbert, 32, grew up in Jefferson, GA, a town of just under 10,000. As a boy, he worked for his father's insulation company and eventually joined the school's football and baseball teams. He and his friends started abusing the pain pills they received after sports injuries, but his life really spiraled out of control the night he got into a car accident.
At 19, Gilbert got into an argument with his friend at a party and punched him. When his friend stormed off, he followed in his car. Gilbert drove off the road, and his car flipped "five or six times" before hitting a tree. He lived, "and a witness said he even landed on his feet after being thrown from the vehicle." His song "Halfway to Heaven" was inspired by the accident.
Stone Cold Sober
A judge ordered Gilbert to 12-step meetings and group therapy, but the singer didn't bother. He moved to Nashville in 2009 after inking a songwriting deal, and continued to drink , fight, and abuse medications. He carried two bottles of whiskey and a pistol in his bag when he was writing.
At the Cumberland Heights rehab center in Nashville, he met Keith Urban. Urban battled substance abuse addiction and struggled with sobriety, too.
“I told him, 'I don’t think I can do my job. I don’t know if I can ever play a song at my shows without being (messed) up. Or writing, I was worried my songs wouldn’t be the same, that I wouldn’t be on everyone else’s level,'" Gilbert said.
Urban assured him that he felt the same emotions when he first tried sobriety. But he learned that he was "a better performer, a better writer, he had more fun, he was a better husband and a better man without drugs and alcohol."
And that was just what Gilbert needed to hear. His world "flipped" during the pair's conversation. He ended up staying in rehab for another week before going on tour with Eric Church.
Just As I Am
“As a man, I feel like I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was. I’m concerned about things that matter.”
And he credits Urban for his transformation. “If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be sober or be in this business anymore. I’d probably be dead.”
It's been five years now that Gilbert has been alcohol- and pain-pill-free, and he just released a new album.
“I’m more comfortable in my own skin, and before, I needed a drink to get there. Now, it’s like, I am what I am."