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Tom T. Hall’s Cause of Death, an Autopsy Report and the Resistance to Setting the Record Straight

Copyright 2022
All Rights Reserved    

Because Tom T. Hall died at age 85, and no cause of death was initially provided, initial media reports reflected exactly that. 

The unwritten (and ultimately erroneous) assumption, due to Tom’s age at death, was that Hall died of natural causes.

Having known Thomas Hall (I’ve never referred to Tom Hall, except for purposes of clarification, by his stage name) for nearly 50 years and his capability of beating statistical odds, despite his increasing age-related issues (in addition to congenital and chronic health conditions which only those few who knew him as long and as well as I did were privy), I sensed immediately that there was more to the story and, once I could collect my thoughts, I made those sentiments known publicly August 21, 2021, the day after Tom’s passing: I had had a premonition, as I sometimes do about a myriad of things, that TOM T. HALL would die in the morning.  What morning I did not know.  I did expect someone I knew personally to die on August 20, 2021 but that someone was my former WLAC Radio and Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Gridiron Show colleague PHIL VALENTINE.  (Valentine actually passed the following day.)

''’I'm not booked for long,’ Tom once told me.  I was alarmed at the time, especially because Hall refused to elaborate, but that was back when he'd just turned 36.

“During those days the future novelist chatted me up about our shared fascination with Portnoy's Complaint, PHILIP ROTH's novel which I was in the process of reading. (Tom had already read the book, though he preferred BORDEN DEAL's novels, at a time my curiosity prompted me to read Roth's novel to learn, given my preference for nonfiction, what all the fuss had been about when it was published five years earlier.)

“I had forgotten all about that conversation of 49 years before until I got word of Tom's death and thought how ironic it was the news came at a time I had just finished the first of two newly-published Roth biographies competing for my attention (Philip Roth was, after all, my great-aunt's niece's husband's nephew's wife's uncle's wife's sister's husband's first cousin once-removed's ex-husband) that I had borrowed from the Nashville Public Library

“Ironically, I had been in (infrequent) touch with DEAN HALL earlier in the week, so at a time when others were just learning of Tom's passing I reached out to Dean.  To my surprise, given all that he is now dealing with, Tom's son returned my email within the hour.

“What a class act!

"As someone who knew Tom Hall well, for nearly a half century, the thing that has struck me amid all of the Legacy messages of condolence is that for all of those who love Tom's music or maybe shared a stage or two with him, how few of his admirers, at least most of those who have weighed in, actually have professed to know anything about Hall beyond his music.”

But because of the nature of our relationship (Tom would introduce me publicly as his friend, I have always referred to him publicly as a mentor, and, over the decades, others have preferred their own characterizations- biographer, or whatever), that same day, as I mourned, I set about writing an appropriate eulogy. 

When it appeared Legacy.com did not receive my remarks, I concluded it was also possible that, due to a glitch or my not "saving" what I had written, I ought to write another reminiscence.

Imagine my surprise when both of my contributions were published (the first on August 23rd and the second on August 25th)! 

It subsequently proved embarrassing when I learned the second attempt to remember Tom reflected some beliefs reality proved later to be untrue.  Stay with me.  More about that in due course.

Blissfully ignorant in that respect, the uneasiness I was feeling was confirmed when I read Hall’s obituary.  Based on what it contained, what it didn’t contain or, put more charitably with the benefit of the doubt being extended, how it possibly reflected what its writer thought were Tom’s wishes or an effort to protect him, rather than what Hall would have wanted, I knew it just didn’t ring true.

Not wishing to rely upon speculation, rumor, or to be a party to irresponsible reporting, relying on my intuition I decided the first step was to obtain Tom's death certificate.

The reaction to quietly making that sentiment known, which I did in September, 2021, was, to put it mildly, an overreaction.  Anyone who has seen the publicly-available portion of the death certificate can deduce omissions just from what has been “disclosed.”

So, I soldiered on hoping to rule out the existence of an autopsy report.

Unfortunately, my curiosity produced just the opposite expectation.  On October 6, 2021 I confirmed that Tom’s body had been autopsied.  I was also told that it could be up to 90 days from the date of the autopsy before the results would be made public.

I waited for anyone who knew more than I did to put a sourced end to the deception.   The public’s right to know- which might not otherwise ever have existed in any other than the legal sense- began with the deception. 

The immediate obstacle was that, though the autopsy had long since been complete, the law allows for a minimum of 60-90 days for the release of an autopsy report.  That time frame may be extended, due to the circumstances of the death/investigation, the tests being performed, or case load. 

In actuality, all of the relevant information including details of the 911 report, the toxicology report, et al came to light in bits and pieces, resulting in the complete report became available on September 20, 2021.

In short, the report was available before the 90 days expired, but no members of the media, including me, had requested it.  I have only to assume that meant I was the only reporter who had inquired about, and confirmed the existence of, an autopsy report.

Knowing before I read them that the results would be upsetting, I let the 90 days expire before concluding that the truth was eventually going to come out in the tabloids if more responsible and less graphic reporting was not available first.

On November 23, 2022 I obtained the full and final report from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Chief Medical Examiner Fran Wheatley.  In a same-day exclusive, I broke the news to Stacy’s Music Row Report readers: "UPDATE: As I previously reported here, I have been withholding some information that I confirmed to my own satisfaction in August, 2021.  Now that I have the official results, I am sadly (with a mixture of frustration, anger and disbelief, though, honestly, not shock the first journalist to confirm that TOM T. HALL's grisly cause of death was a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head (via the mouth). 

"Suicide runs in families, including Hall's, but there were other reasons for Tom's decision.  One of the biggest, in my opinion, was Hall's beginning to lose his mobility.  (Tom died less than three months after his 85th birthday.  I wonder if Hall was aware that, according to the most recently available data- compiled in 2017- from the Society of Actuaries and the Social Security Administration, the average life expectancy for a person who is alive at age 85 is 92 years of age.)

"Beyond that, if you're looking for reasons,  there were any number of them stemming from Tom's acknowledged history of mental illness.  Hall's depression, in turn, impacted the way Tom lived his life.  He chose to surround himself with a host of sycophants who apparently saw him as a meal ticket affording them "bragging rights" and, in their estimation, nothing more.     

"There were others in his life to whom Tom chose not to listen (including approximately a handful of well-meaning, caring people, some of whom should have put themselves first long before they did) that had me relying on my intuition (my having known Tom, one of my mentors- though he preferred to introduce me to others as his "friend"- all of my adult life and the majority of his) before I received the facts. 

"Then there are those uninvestigated (for what seems like obvious reasons) thefts from the Country Music Hall of Fame Library's Tom T. Hall vertical file...

"Here is a G-rated summary of nine (9) pages of otherwise lurid, disgusting and graphic details (and methodology sadly familiar to Tom and what remains of  his family), that Report readers would expect from a thorough investigation, and to which I am privy:  The 911 call was placed at 11:33 a.m. on August 20, 2021 and paramedics arrived 18 minutes later.

"The toxicology report suggests that at, at the time of his death, at least one (metabolizing) drug designed to aid in alcohol withdrawal and anxiety management was in Tom's system.  (I earned Hall's ire nearly a half-century ago when, naive and otherwise barely out of my teens, I wrote him an ill-advised, but well-meaning and heartfelt letter, beginning "It's not my place to tell you this but, since those whose place it is will not do so, you are an alcoholic.")

"As if I was giving Tom information he didn't already know and he would abstain forevermore as a result.  Right?

"Hey, no one knew what an "intervention" was in those days, let alone how to plan one.  And I'd never heard of Al-Anon.

"As I noted, apparently erring, in a Legacy.com remembrance (ever mindful of posting guidelines, with which, given the delay in publication of the post, I thought I had unintentionally violated, I posted another memory), I thought Tom had succeeded in recovery. It never occurred to me that he may have lapsed decades later, and, even though I knew Hall had been on hunting trips in the distant past, that he owned a gun.

"Those who did know about such a lethal combination should have sounded an alarm.

"That said, as those who knew him best would expect, Tom left no note. 

"I never believed that the 2012 incident (not to mention earlier, suppressed incidents at his former Brentwood, Tennessee office) occurred as it was reported and subsequently adjudicated, given Hall's organization's prior history with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.  (I was very public about my feelings in my reporting of the Fox Hollow shooting at the time.  Had that incident, and prior incidents, been responsibly handled, sans enabling, Tom would have been forced to make better decisions.)

"As a 2021 graduate of The Davidson County Sheriff's Office's Citizens Academy, my skepticism has been reinforced by the WCSO's evasion and lack of responsiveness in its handling of Tom Hall's death, beginning with an unwillingness/inability to explain why, given the findings I have reported (which it does not dispute) as it informed me, most recently on November 24, 2021, the investigation remains "open."

It must be noted that there is a possibility that Hall was aware of an informal (and subsequently botched) investigation (having nothing to do with the WCSO) that was underway in the months prior to his death, the details of which will likely surface during an upcoming election cycle, perhaps as opposition research.  If that is the case, voices more powerful than my own will establish that there are bungling enablers with (if only figuratively) blood on their hands. 

To Be Continued...

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