Troy Gentry from the band Montgomery Gentry died when the helicopter he was in crashed at the Flying W Airport. The band confirmed his death via social media on Friday afternoon. USA TODAY
Troy Gentry’s family filed into the Grand Ole Opry House in front of a room filled with music industry veterans and fans. Batman signals were beamed onto the walls and personal photos and videos of Gentry with his family and of his career in country music’s Montgomery Gentry rotated across the Opry’s large screens.
Country music’s best-known singers including Keith Urban, Travis Tritt, Randy Owen, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, and Michael Ray waited to hug Gentry’s duo partner Eddie Montgomery.
While Gentry was part of the award-winning country duo Montgomery Gentry, the celebration of his life at the Grand Ole Opry House Thursday didn’t echo his career achievements. The emotional service celebrated the man he had become.
“One of the most frustrating things is that this is the best Troy we had ever seen,” said Brentwood Baptist senior pastor Dr. Michael Glenn. Gentry was a member of Glenn’s congregation and a close friend. “His music was better, his songwriting was better … and then the phone rang. ‘It’s Troy … there was a helicopter accident.’ It’s like walking on a landmine – boom, click the world is changed.”
Gentry was killed Friday when a helicopter he was riding in crashed hours before a show the duo was set to play in Medford, N.J. The singer was 50.
At the request of Gentry’s wife Angie, Little Big Town started his service with a spiritual version of The Star-Spangled Banner. As the group’s famous harmonies filled the room, member Kimberly Schlapman quickly wiped away a tear.
With his family up front, the Opry House full of fans, his casket on the stage’s famous circle and the national anthem ringing through the rafters — the first few minutes of Gentry’s ceremony encapsulated all that was most important to him — God, family, patriotism and country music.
“We were scary alike,” said Gentry’s friend and country music personality Storme Warren. Warren fought to control his emotions as he explained how the men learned from each other and that Gentry became his role model.
“What he wanted to do was get better — better at loving people, better at loving his family, better at entertaining his fans, better at being a good friend and that inspired me to be better,” Warren said.
The service included songs from country music stars as well as Gentry’s close friends. Duo Halfway 2 Hazard performed, explaining that Gentry — a Grand Ole Opry member since Montgomery Gentry was inducted in 2009 — promised he would help them play on the famous stage.
And now, duo members pointed out, they had. As Halfway 2 Hazard sang My Old Kentucky Home,” mourners respectfully stood up.
Gentry’s church friend Eddie Lunn recalled bonding with the singer during regular breakfast meetings at Puffy Muffin. The group included Dr. Glenn and Lunn said the purpose of the meetings was to confidentially talk through the darkest parts of their lives.
“In Troy’s mind, he was never good enough,” Lunn said. “He wanted to be a better person … the problem with simply wanting to be a better person is it lacks purpose. He (condensed the Bible) to one statement, ‘Love God, love others.’ Troy found his why: You love others because God loves you. He didn’t have to be good enough. God just loved him.”
More insight into Gentry’s heart came from long-time friend Rafael Calderon. Calderon spoke of Gentry’s love for his family — wife Angie and daughters Taylor and Kaylee, his obsession with Batman, and his adoration for Mickey Mouse and the holidays.
Calderon said Gentry had a different Mickey Mouse shirt for every day they were at Disney World and that he transformed his home into a haunted house every Halloween. As soon as the Halloween decorations were taken down, Calderon recalled Gentry would ask him to come over and help hang thousands of Christmas lights. With Batman’s famed insignia displayed on his jacket, he laughed as he shared his friend’s love of the super hero.
“I’m not saying Troy was Batman,” he said. “I’m just saying no one has ever seen Troy and Batman in the same room. He always said, ‘You don’t need superpowers to be a super hero.’”
Trace Adkins, whose voice both boomed and cradled Wayfaring Stranger, said it was always a privilege to share the Opry stage with Gentry and that it was still a privilege. Family friend and Elvis impersonator Cody Ray Slaughter covered Kentucky Rain and Charlie Daniels, who delivered the invitation for Montgomery Gentry to join the Opry eight years ago, sang How Great Thou Art.
But it was Vince Gill’s emotional plea to Montgomery that again moved the auditorium to tears.
“We feel like family and we are family,” Gill said from the stage before he performed Whenever You Come Around. “I would encourage Eddie to lean on this (Opry) family. It’s a good one. Don’t disappear. This family has a long history of loss.”
At those words, Daniels, Owen and Skaggs pulled Montgomery into a group hug.
The service concluded with a song Gentry recently recorded — Better Me.
The lyrics include: “I ain’t perfect, but I’m working on a better me.”
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, email@example.com or on Twitter @CindyNWatts.