He moved to Nashville in to pursue a country music career and soon signed a record deal with RCA Records. Whitley's first solo album, A Hard Act to Follow , was released in , and featured a more mainstream country style. While Whitley was working hard to achieve his own style, the songs he produced were inconsistent.
Critics regarded the album as too erratic. Whitley honed his sound within the next few years for his next album, L. During his tour to promote L. The pair were married in November , and they had their only child, a son, Jesse Keith Whitley, in June Whitley also adopted Lorrie's daughter, Morgan, from her first marriage. During the new recording sessions in , Whitley started feeling that the songs he was doing were not up to his standards, so he approached RCA and asked if the project of 15 songs could be shelved.
He asked if he could assert himself more with the songs and production. The new album, titled Don't Close Your Eyes , was released in , and the album sold extremely well. Also on the album was a remake of Lefty Frizzell 's classic standard "I Never Go Around Mirrors," and the song became a huge hit at Whitley's concerts.
The first three singles from the album—"When You Say Nothing at All," "I'm No Stranger to the Rain," and the title cut—all reached number one on Billboard Magazine 's country charts during the fall of and the winter of , with the title track "Don't Close Your Eyes" being ranked as Billboard's No.
Galante approved of the musical flexibility that Whitley achieved with the song; however, he suggested that Whitley record something new and more upbeat. The result was a song Whitley had optioned for his previous album called I Wonder Do You Think of Me , and was to result in his next album release. On the morning of Tuesday, May 9, , Whitley awoke and had a brief phone call with his mother.
He was then visited by his brother-in-law Lane Palmer, and the two had coffee and they were planning a day of golf and having lunch, after which Whitley had planned to start writing songs for Lorrie Morgan and himself to record when she returned from her concert tour. Upon returning, Palmer found Whitley unconscious on his bed and called an ambulance.
Whitley was pronounced dead at the hospital. The official cause of death was determined to be acute ethanolism alcohol poisoning ,  and Davidson County Medical Examiner Charles Harlan stated that his blood alcohol level was 0. The day after his death, Music Row was lined with black ribbons in memory of Whitley. His gravestone reads, "Forever yours faithfully" part one and "His being was my reason" part two. The "yours" in part one means Whitley, and the "my" in part two means Morgan , who has a future burial spot next to him.
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