Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan are mourning the loss of this legendary musician and close friend

Larry D. Moore, CC BY 4.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The legends of American music are slowly disappearing from the scene.

The number of those left performing shrinks more and more with every passing year.

And Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan are mourning the loss of this legendary musician and close friend.

The eccentric country singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman died last week at age 79.

A bona fide American folk hero

Friedman’s music, musings, novels, one-liners, and his Independent run for Texas Governor made him a true folk hero. 

“Kinky Friedman stepped on a rainbow at his beloved Echo Hill surrounded by family & friends,” a statement on X announcing his death read. “Kinkster endured tremendous pain & unthinkable loss in recent years but he never lost his fighting spirit and quick wit. Kinky will live on as his books are read and his songs are sung.” 

According to the Texas Tribune, the cause of death was Parkinson’s disease.

Friedman’s oddball personality had a certain magnetism about it.

As his friend Taj Mahal once described it, he had a “fearless Texas chutzpah” in his songs, stump speeches, interviews, and writings that made him a media darling and a classic songwriter.

Throughout his time on earth, he befriended several Presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

He also considered Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson as two of his closest friends.

In 2006, Friedman ran a longshot and hilarious campaign for Governor of Texas and managed to shock the political establishment by winning 12 percent of the vote. 

“I got my last will and testament worked out,” Friedman said in 2014. “When I die, I’m going to be cremated and the ashes are to be thrown in Rick Perry’s hair.”

Born Richard Samet Friedman in Chicago in 1944, Kinky was the son of two Jewish progressives who moved the family to Houston where they began operating Echo Hill Ranch.

Echo Hill was a summer camp that Friedman’s family ran for decades and a place Kinky called home for most of his life.

Friedman moved to Austin to attend college, after which he joined the Peace Corps and moved to Borneo.

In the early 1970s, he ended up in Nashville writing songs. 

To deal with crippling stage fright, Richard adapted a stage name and persona based on an old college nickname: Kinky.

“I didn’t think the name Richard Friedman was a good name for a struggling country artist of the outlandish type I had imagined,” he told his biographer, Mary Lou Sullivan. 

Kinky began touring as Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys.

They performed a type of hard-edged 70s outlaw style that fused rock and country and landed him a spot performing on Saturday Night Live.

Don’t stand too close to him

Friedman’s best-known album, Sold American, established him as a renegade in 1973 and made him stand out among the outlaw country crow. 

His songs championed irreverence and were often brilliant. 

And sometimes they were downright ugly.

One of his most famous songs, They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore, is filled with slurs.

“I thought he was brilliant, and very brave,” Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player told Rolling Stone in 2018. “I got the joke, but I wouldn’t have wanted to stand too close to him at that time. I still keep my distance. It was like, ‘That’s funny, but don’t say you know me.’”

After a series of albums failed to work commercially, Friedman switched gears and launched a successful career as a novelist.

He eventually became a columnist at Texas Monthly.

He developed a national cult following through his often-repeated catchphrases like “Friedman’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Friedman ran for Governor of Texas in 2006 and made his campaign a wisecracking, hilarious barnstorming tour.

Among his campaign slogans were “Why the hell not?” and “How hard can it be?”  

He said Willie Nelson would be his energy czar, sold Kinky Friedman talking action figures, and quoted Warren Zevon when asked about the first thing he’d do if elected. 

“I’ll sleep when I’m Governor,” he said.

In 2018, Friedman returned to writing songs after more than three decades. 

As his brother, Roger Friedman, explained, in Circus of Life, Friedman created a collection of folk songs full of a “vulnerability he never would have tolerated in himself long ago.”

In his later years, Friedman was devoted to Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, a refuge for rescue animals he founded in 1998. 

He lived by himself with dogs and hummingbirds at the Echo Hill Ranch and continued to write and record music even as he grew increasingly ill over the past few years.

Patriot Political will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.