Culture  /  Biography

Dear Charlie

Charlie Rich, the tragic soul man whose legacy was largely forgotten after his brief period of fame.

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Charlie Rich performing "Behind Closed Doors."

In his quietly wounded voice, Rich came across as a soul survivor, a rugged country romantic with a plush blues for a culturally weather-beaten time. In “Behind Closed Doors,” he was a sturdy, faithful man whose affections privately smoldered, more powerful for being hidden from view.

My baby makes me proud
Lord, don’t she make me proud
She never makes a scene
By hanging all over me in a crowd

But when we turn down the lights, he sang, the rest was “behind closed doors,” leaving the listeners to fill in their own fantasies. And they did. A letter from fourteen-year-old Kim Baumgardner of Cincinnati, Ohio, describes an elaborate dream in which Charlie Rich performs on a “floating platform” on a pond near her house. “I wanted to talk to you and it drove me crazy that you were so far away so I went in after you,” she wrote. “I got up to the raft and you jumped off and started swimming and I kept saying wait Mr. Rich I wanta talk to ya and you wouldn’t listen so I got mad and I said I have 7 albums of you and I worship the ground you walk on.” At this, Charlie Rich swam over to her:

We went into the [apartment] and you dried off and put your other clothes on and we sat down at the kitchen room table and you said what do you want to talk about + I said well nothing I needed an excuse to get up close to you and you started laughing and I said what’s so funny and you said well for a while I thought you were going to say something nice like I love you or your really tuff looking, cause girls come up to me and say that all the time . . . then you said come over here and sit on my knee. I came over and you came real close and I thought you were going to kiss me and I said please do and you did kiss me and it sure was something.

For Kim and other fans, Charlie Rich seemed as vivid and real as if he were in the room, fresh out of the local pond. But Charlie Rich was a cipher. A sullen introvert who pursued fame reluctantly and spent much of his life battling alcoholism, he was both more and less than the man they heard on the radio, channeling not just his own blues, but those of the actual woman behind closed doors with Charlie: the long-suffering partner who was instrumental in harnessing his talent and saving him from himself, his wife Margaret Ann Rich.