Country music is one of the oldest, most popular genres of music in history. 

And Hank Williams, a country music icon, was one of the leading U.S. singers of the 1940s. 

On this day in history, Jan. 1, 1953, music legend Williams passed away at just 29 years old. 

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Hank Williams was born Hiram King Williams in Mount Olive, Alabama, to a family of strawberry farmers and log company workers, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

In addition to growing up in a family that struggled with poverty, Williams himself was managing a different type of struggle. 

Williams was born with a spinal deformity called spina bifida occulta.

In this condition, people suffer from a small gap between the bones in the spine as a result of incomplete formation during the mother’s pregnancy. 

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Williams experienced pain throughout his life as a result. 

He started playing the guitar when he was just 8 years old and made his first radio debut at 13, according to Britannica. 

In 1937, Williams’ mother moved the family to Montgomery, Alabama, where Williams, at age 14, formed his first band named Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys. 

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Williams was exempt from military service during the war due to his spinal deformity — but many of his bandmates were called to serve. That made it difficult for the band to carry on. 

He spent time between Montgomery, where he played music, and Mobile, where he worked in shipyards, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Williams married Audrey Mae Sheppard, his manager, in Dec. 1944 and restarted the Drifting Cowboys after the war. 

“Lovesick Blues” was a hit in 1949, allowing him to join the Grand Ole Opry that same year. 

Known for his lyrics and his ability to successfully create a country hit, Williams was deemed the “Hillbilly Shakespeare” of his time.

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Some of his other smash hits include “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Jambalaya,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Hey, Good Lookin’.”

After divorcing Audrey in 1952, he married singer Billie Jean Horton. 

Just two months later, Williams died of heart failure. 

His death may have resulted from years of drug and alcohol abuse, according to Britannica. 

The son whom he and Audrey had together — Hank Williams Jr. — has had a successful music career himself. 

He was born in May 1949 and today is 74 years old. 

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