50 Years Ago Today, Jim Croce Died in a Plane Crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana
NATCHITOCHES, La. (KPEL News) - The man behind "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," “One Less Set of Footsteps," and other hits was doing a tour of southern colleges in 1973 when he made a stop in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
After performing at Northwestern State University, his plane took off from a small airport near campus. However, the pilot did not get high enough to evade a pecan tree near the runway. The plane crashed, and Jim Croce died 50 years ago today.
Croce's death resulted in a massive posthumous sales boom that is still unrivaled to this day, according to Billboard.
The sudden death of someone who was so new to the mainstream was of course a shock. But few would have expected what would happen next: Croce’s death triggered one of the biggest posthumous sales booms in history. “I Got a Name,” which was released the day after Croce’s death, reached the top 10 on the Hot 100 in November. The following month, the poignant “Time in a Bottle” (which had appeared on his 1972 album You Don’t Miss Around With Jim) became his second No. 1. It made Croce just the third artist in the history of the Hot 100 to top the chart posthumously, following Otis Redding (“(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” 1968) and Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee,” 1971). Moreover, Croce became the first artist in Hot 100 history to top the chart both while living and after his death.
Croce's plane, a Beechcraft E18S, failed to clear a pecan tree while taking off and crashed. There were six people on board the plane at the time of the crash - including Croce, his guitarist Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager Kenneth D. Cortose, road manager Dennis Rast, and pilot Robert Elliott. All were killed in the crash.
The event remains a notable part of the history of Natchitoches and is still talked about in the community. On Monday evening, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame & Northwest Louisiana History Museum hosted a "standing-room-only crowd of music lovers," according to the Natchitoches Parish Journal.
One of the most notable stories from the period involves Croce's widow, Ingrid, and the mayor of Natchitoches at the time.
According to sources, when awarding Ingrid and her son, A.J. a key to the city, the mayor told her, “You’ll be glad to know we cut that damn tree down.”
Days after the crash, she received a letter Croce had sent her that day.
It talked about his desire to retire from performing, instead becoming “a public hermit,” who concentrated on writing in order to attend to his family.
Croce closed with “Give my little man (A.J.) a kiss,” followed by, “Remember, it’s the first 60 years that count, and I’ve got 30 more to go.”
50 years later, Croce's music is still well-known in the music world, and his death is being remembered across the world.