Skip to main content

ESPN severs ties with Hank Williams Jr.

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Thu October 6, 2011
Hank Williams Jr. and ESPN say they've parted company, although their accounts differ on the details.
Hank Williams Jr. and ESPN say they've parted company, although their accounts differ on the details.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "All My Rowdy Friends" has been the MNF intro since '91
  • Williams slammed the Obama-Boehner golf outing with a comment referring to Hitler
  • Williams says ESPN "stepped on the toes of the First Amendment''

(CNN) -- ESPN says it has severed its relationship with singer Hank Williams Jr.

"We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. We appreciate his contributions over the past years," the network said in a statement released Thursday. The success of 'Monday Night Football' has always been about the games and that will continue."

Williams, the 62-year-old son of the legendary country singer Hank Williams and a widely popular entertainer himself, compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, a remark that prompted controversy and resulted in "Monday Night Football" pulling his popular musical introduction from this week's game.

The song "All My Rowdy Friends" had been the "Monday Night Football" theme on both ABC and ESPN since 1991.

Williams issued a statement giving a very different version: "After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It's been a great run."

In an appearance on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" on Monday morning, Williams referred to a June golf game in which Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were on the same team, against Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, as "one of the biggest political mistakes ever."

Hank Williams Jr. compares Obama, Hitler
Hank Williams Jr. pulled from 'MNF'

Asked what he didn't like about it, Williams said, "Come on, come on. That'd be like Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu. OK. Not hardly."

When one of the Fox News interviewers later pointed out that Williams invoked "one of the most hated people in all of the world to describe ... the president," Williams responded: "That is true, but I'm telling you like it is, you know. That just wasn't a good thing. It just didn't fly. So anyway, like Fred Thompson said, you don't want to ask me a question because I'm going to give you too straight of an answer. So talk about something else."

The singer apologized on Tuesday, saying, "My analogy was extreme -- but it was to make a point.

"I have always been very passionate about politics and sports and this time it got the best or worst of me.

"The thought of the leaders of both parties jukin' and high fiven' on a golf course, while so many families are struggling to get by, simply made me boil over and make a dumb statement, and I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I would like to thank all my supporters. This was not written by some publicist," Williams wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned Williams' comments on Tuesday and praised ESPN for pulling his "Are You Ready for Some Football?" musical recording that has opened "Monday Night Football" for years.

"The Holocaust was a singular event in human history, and it is an insult to the memory of the millions who died as a result of Hitler's plan of mass extermination to compare the Nazi dictator to any American president," said Abraham H. Foxman, the league's national director and a Holocaust survivor.

"Hank Williams Jr. should know better. He owes an apology to Holocaust survivors, their families, and the brave American soldiers who gave of themselves to fight the Nazi menace during World War II. The last thing we need is to enter another election cycle on a sour note tainted with inappropriate, tired and over-the-top analogies to the Nazis," he said.

Williams has criticized Obama in the past, when the Democrat was running for the presidency. In 2008, Williams was even mentioned in some media outlets as saying he was considering running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in the next election cycle, but those plans never materialized.

Williams, who supported the Republican ticket in 2008 and even penned a song called "McCain-Palin Tradition," said during that campaign that candidate Obama didn't like the national anthem.

The "McCain-Palin Tradition" song, which is a riff on the Williams tune "Family Tradition," included a line suggesting that Obama has "terrorist friends.".

Williams was born May 26, 1949, and his iconic father nicknamed him "Bocephus" after a ventriloquist dummy used by Rod Brasfield, a country comedian, Williams' website says.

He debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, at age 11. In addition to "All My Rowdy Friends," his other hits include "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound," "Old Habits," "Born to Boogie," and "A Country Boy Can Survive."

The bearded Williams, who wears a hat and sunglasses during performances, suffered facial and head injuries in a 1975 mountain climbing accident.

"Those familiar with Hank Jr.'s legend know it hasn't been an easy road. Every life and career has its peaks and valleys, but Williams has had more than his share. When he sings "A Country Boy Can Survive," there's an authority in his voice, because he's done just that. He literally fell from a mountain top, yet lived to tell the tale. He's battled his own demons and now on the other side of 50, it's obvious he has been the victor," his website bio says.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT