The story of Hilary Williams’ life is extraordinary in every sense of the word. Born into one of music’s most revered families as the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. and the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Hilary inherited the family’s songwriting and singing gifts in spades. In fact, her father says, “She sings like a queen, like a star.” But that legacy is only part of what has come to define Hilary’s life and ultimately give her a story that is both inspiring and uniquely her own. This is the story she tells in her new memoir, Sign of Life.
While driving to her grandfather’s funeral with sister Holly on March 15, 2006, Hilary lost control of her SUV on Mississippi’s historic Highway 61. The crash left both sisters in critical condition, but Hilary’s injuries would prove to be catastrophic. Hilary describes her injuries as she hovered between life and death at the scene: “I had broken too many bones to count. Both of my legs, my ankle, my back, collarbone, tailbone, pelvis, right femur, and three ribs were all broken. My hips were shattered. I had a ruptured colon and bruised lungs.”
Thanks to the work of talented EMT’s and a transfusion of an experimental blood substitute called PolyHeme at the crash site, Hilary survived the crash and air transfer to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis. She would spend the next month at that facility before being transferred to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
Over the course of her recovery, Hilary went through 23 surgeries — an experience that tested Hilary’s resolve to its limit. Dealing with such a profound injury is a long, drawn out and excruciatingly painful ordeal that takes years, not months. Though her family and friends rallied around her throughout this process, there were extremely long bouts of solitude during the healing process. Hilary gives gripping insight into the physical and mental rigors she endured during the seemingly endless parade of surgeries and rehabilitation.
It’s a story Hilary hopes will inspire those who have been through similar ordeals and give insight to the people caring for the injured. Hilary has already found a kinship with other people who have survived similar death-defying experiences, and she feels that Sign of Life will also serve as a signpost of hope and healing to her fellow survivors. The title of the book itself is drawn from one of Hilary’s self-penned songs, inspired by her recovery.
She explains in a passage from the book: “One day not long after that, Dr. Croce and I were talking about my progress. I asked him whether I would always be in so much pain. ‘Pain is a sign of life, Hilary,’ he answered.”
On the musical front, Sign of Life gives context to Hilary’s place in the world by telling the stories of her grandfather and father. Though both artists have been the subject of countless books, movies and television specials, Hilary tells the story of Hank Sr. and Jr. as only a close family member could. While not sensational in tone, Hilary recounts the challenges her grandfather faced and addresses his untimely death at age 29.
She also draws parallels with her father’s near-fatal fall from the side of a mountain that forever changed his life and ultimately led him to move out of the shadows of his famous father and step into the spotlight as one of country music’s most innovative and celebrated entertainers. Hank, Jr. has earned a reputation as wild man thanks to hits like “All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” but the father Hilary reveals in the book is much different than the outrageous person the world knows as “Bocephus.” “I just wanted to show the good side of my dad,” Hilary says. “He’s not a big partier, and he takes his kids to school, and he’s somewhat of a normal dad. People just see this wild, crazy image of him, and I wanted to show this other side of him.
In the wake of her accident, Hilary carries on the “family tradition” writing songs and pursuing her own music career. Sign of Life closes with the story of Hilary’s return to the concert stage in Nashville, and she is currently writing new music and plans to embark on her solo career soon. Sign of Life is just the first step of Hilary Williams’ journey as she carves out her own place in her family’s storied legacy.