Lady A’s Charles Kelley Recounts Terrifying Drunk Driving Episode That Sparked His Sobriety
Due to his celebrity status, Kelley evaded legal troubles.
Charles Kelley; Photo Courtesy Facebook
Sitting down with Emmy Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Vargas on the season premiere of Partnership to End Addiction’s “Heart of the Matter” podcast, the singer/songwriter opened up about the time he got pulled over after getting behind the wheel drunk and how his journey to sobriety unfolded from there.
“This is something that actually I don’t think I’ve ever talked about but I want to talk about now,” Kelley shared honestly.
A Fun Day At The Beach Leads To A Near DUI
He recalled being home alone two or three years ago while his wife Cassie and their son were on a trip to see family members around Christmas time. This gave him a few free days to spend at the beach and at a local spot where he knew he could indulge without any judgement.
“This was awesome. Family’s gone. I’m on my own. I can drink as much as I want,” he thought at the time. “And then everybody at the bar was like, ‘Hey man, I just want to make sure you’re not driving back.’ And I was like, ‘man, if I don’t drive back, my wife’s going to be like, “Where’s your car?”’ Even though I could have gotten it the next morning, she wouldn’t have known she wasn’t there. I was like, ‘I’m not leaving my car here.’ Snuck out the back when no one’s watching me and I got in my car. It was literally a three-minute drive and I must’ve been swerving. I got pulled over.”
In that moment, Kelley thought “this is it…It was almost like I wanted it. I was like, finally something’s happening.”
Charles Kelley Begins His Journey To Sobriety
When the officer who pulled the artist over asked for his identification, he recognized his name from his country music band, Lady A, and instead of convicting Kelley of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the officer drove him home and left without giving out a ticket or any other consequence.
“I was like, holy moly. Bullet dodged…I felt guilty enough or maybe I was afraid that some of our friends … Because it’s a small little beach community, would see my car pulled over. I was like, ‘alright, I got to tell my wife.’ I told her and I was like, ‘I’m done. This is exhausting. I just got pulled over. I just literally almost ruined my life, created all this chaos for the band.’ Because it would’ve been an awful press of course. And I said, ‘I’m done.’ I stopped drinking. White knuckling it as they call it and did it on my own. I think I lasted three months.”
A Trip To Paris Brings Setbacks
The Georgia native started going to rehab around a year later and admitted he was feeling better. Then, the disease reared its head once again when he was on a trip to Paris with his wife and had the beautiful setting of the city in front of him. Kelley convinced himself and his wife that he was okay with having just a couple of glasses of wine in honor of being in Europe together.
“We were on a little trip in Paris and I was like, ‘God, I just want a glass of wine. It’s so beautiful.’ We’re looking over at the Eiffel Tower and she goes, ‘Just have a glass of wine.’ She didn’t say that. I had talked her into it and I think she didn’t know what to do. This was new territory for us. Again, I had no tools in place. I wasn’t going to any meetings. I was just doing this on my own.”
He continued, “I had a glass of wine. Somehow talked her into having another one. And I was like, ‘That was nice. I think I’m good. I think I can just do one or two.’ Meanwhile, in my head I’m like, that wasn’t enough.”
Slowly and secretly, he started to reintroduce hard liquor back into his routine. This is when his battle started to have a major impact on both his marriage and the future of his career.
“Told the band I was going to really cut back. And then about two or three months later, I’m literally not even hiding it,” Kelley told the outlet. “I’m back and then some, drinking more on the road. But right around that time it was just getting really dark and exhausting. And all the time I remember being in the back of the bus and throwing up on my own.”
The Members Of Lady A Intervened
He then recalled the moment his bandmates Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood sat him down and said, “You’re drinking, you have to stop.” Kelley still didn’t fully see the severity of his problem at the time and agreed to try and just control it until finally realizing that it had to be “all or nothing.”
So when Lady A made the conscious choice to postpone their 2022 their headlining Request Line Tour to allow Kelley to take the necessary time to recover, he led with nothing but honesty. Kelley says he didn’t want fans to start speculating that the band had broken up or that there was an internal issue so instead, he used the tools he was provided with in rehab and gave fans a clear look into what he was dealing with.
“I was like, ‘Every part of my life has always been hiding something here and there.’ I said, ‘I want to be honest. I’m not shameful of this. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ The easy way out would’ve been just to keep drinking and burn everything to the ground. I said, ‘I’m grateful for this.’ And so I was like, ‘Let’s just be honest.’ And that was kind of the turning point of like, alright, well, I guess I’m sharing it now.”
The band has since returned to the road and Charles Kelley hit his one-year sobriety mark in June of 2023. He even gave himself a permanent reminder of the day that he decided to get sober so that if he ever reaches for another drink, he will see the red ink of his tattoo on the edge of his hand that reads the date 6/30/2022.
Charles Kelley Tributes His Sobriety In New Song
A few months after Lady A announced they would be taking some time off the road, Kelley shared a new song called “As Far As You Could,” which serves as his “goodbye letter to alcohol.”
The emotional song was penned with Dave Haywood and Jimmy Robbins and finds Kelley opening up about his addiction, how it affected those around him and what it was like to be so heavily involved in an industry where drinking on the road or before taking the stage is so common.
“Cause you took me high / but you sure as hell brought me down / you said goodbye… But I’m gonna see you around / and to tell the truth / I thought I never would / but it’s time I finally put you down for good / cause you’ve taken me as far as you could,” he sings on the chorus.
In one of his more recent posts, the country star shared that among his many tattoos, he added an extra special one to the edge of his hand. The red ink reads the date 6/30/2022 as a reminder of the day that he decided to get sober and all the reasons behind that decision.
“If I ever reach for a drink again I’ll have this sobriety date starring me back in the face,” he wrote in the Instagram post.
Charles Kelley will join his bandmates of Lady A on their upcoming shows scheduled to take place in Stamford, CT (April 5), Austin, TX (May 4), Myrtle Beach, SC (June 6) and beyond.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.