More than 20 years after a plane crash killed seven members of her band and her tour manager, Reba McEntire can still clearly see the hotel room she was in when she got the news.
The emotion comes flooding back when she revisits that tragic day in 1991 on “Oprah’s Master Class” on the OWN network Sunday night. It’s a rare break in composure from the queen of country music.
“I don’t guess it ever quits hurting,” she says on the show, recalling how she tearfully followed husband-manager Narvel Blackstock room to room as he called people to let them know. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
From that tragedy, she learned to make each day count and not to put anything off until tomorrow. However, McEntire said after the crash, she built up a wall so she would not get close to anybody, and it took time for her to open up to members of her touring family again. She accepted support from industry friends like Dolly Parton, who helped her put a new band together, and she took solace in her strong work ethic.
“I had a huge organization, and I needed to continue working, because that’s their paycheck also,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from just outside Dublin on Thursday. “I had to take care of the people who are still here. So it wasn’t a thing where I could quit. I had to go on with my life, my career for them, for my family, for my sanity.”
Hard work is a defining theme in McEntire’s life, and it has served her “tremendously” throughout her career. It’s something she learned early on from her father, Clark, when she was put to work as a kid on the family’s ranch in Oklahoma.
“If you do that in any job, if you can take direction, if you’re coachable, and you give it all, you’re going to be successful,” she said on the phone.
McEntire is now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and has sold more than 55 million albums worldwide. She also runs a successful fashion and merchandise line.
In 2001, she performed in the Broadway revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” and she starred in the hit TV show “Reba” for six seasons before it was taken off the air.
“I didn’t want to leave the sitcom business in the first place. Our show was canceled in December of 2006, not by our choice by any shape, form or fashion,” she said. “We had a lot more stories to tell, and we were having a blast.”
This year, McEntire is going back to television. ABC has picked up a pilot for the show “Malibu Country.” McEntire plays a woman who divorces her rock-star husband and moves her three kids from Nashville to Malibu to resurrect her singing career.
“I thought it was very true to life,” she said. “Kind of like ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ once again, because it was very similar to Narvel, Shelby (their son) and myself moving to L.A. in 2001 to do the ‘Reba’ show.’ So I really got a kick out of it.”
As much as she’s accomplished, McEntire believes she still has a lot to learn.
“No matter how old you are or what you’ve been doing in life, you can always learn either a better way of doing things or just a better way of treating people,” she said.