On This Day: The Late Keith Whitley Earns No. 1 With ‘I Wonder Do You Think of Me’ in 1989

by Jim Casey

Keith Whitley, 34, died on May 9, 1989, after succumbing to alcohol poisoning in the midst of his burgeoning country music career. Four months later on Sept. 9, Keith scored a posthumous No. 1 single when “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Keith earned five No. 1 singles during his career. He scored his first chart-topper with “Don’t Close Your Eyes” in August 1988. “When You Say Nothing At All” followed suit in December 1988, as did Keith’s final release before he died, “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.” Posthumously released singles “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” and “It Ain’t Nothin'” also topped the chart in 1989 and 1990, respectively.

Penned by Sanger D. Shafer (“That’s the Way Love Goes,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”), “I Wonder Do You Think of Me” served as lead single to Keith’s posthumously released album of the same name. Keith recorded the tune just a month before his death.

The Whitley Effect

Keith Whitley was born on July 1, 1954, in Ashland, Kentucky. Over the course of his abbreviated career, Whitley became both a bluegrass and country music sensation. His neotraditional impact is still felt today—more than 33 years after his death. Whitley’s rise to stardom reads like a folktale, sans the tragic ending.

As a teen, Whitley met Kentucky brethren Ricky Skaggs at a talent show in 1969. Unbelievably, neither won the talent show. But they soon joined forces and were discovered by Ralph Stanley in 1970. Whitley and Skaggs joined Stanley’s bluegrass troupe, Clinch Mountain Boys. Over the next decade, Whitley established himself as a versatile force in bluegrass with both his guitar work and vocals. In 1983, Whitley moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career, eventually landing a recording contact with RCA in 1984.

While Keith’s first three singles fizzled, he scored a Top 20 hit with “Miami, My Amy” in 1985. A handful of Top 10 hits—including “Ten Feet Away” and “Hard Livin”’—followed, before Keith scored his first chart-topper, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” in August 1988. Of course, as previously mentioned, he earned four more No. 1 singles.

More than 30 years after his death, Keith will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year in the Modern Era category, along with Jerry Lee Lewis (Veteran Era category) and Joe Galante (Non-Performer category).