Tammy Wynette Received Shock Therapy When She Tried to Leave Her First Husband

Country music star Tammy Wynette is still famous for her expressive voice and heartache songs, but she’s also known for her rocky personal life. Her third marriage to George Jones was the most famous, and her fifth marriage to George Richey was the longest.

Of course, her first marriage, which began when she was young, was also noteworthy. She had three of her four daughters, but she also received shock therapy in an institution before she ultimately got her first divorce and left that life behind for Nashville.

Tammy Wynette during a press interview in 1979.
Tammy Wynette | Terry Lott/Sony Music Archive/Getty Images

Tammy Wynette was forced to undergo shock therapy in her first marriage

Wynette’s Washington Post obituary mentioned her five marriages and her mysterious kidnapping. But it also noted her health: “She suffered through 20 operations, shock therapy after a mental breakdown, bankruptcy, and drug addiction.”

According to E! News, Jimmy McDonough’s biography Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen shared details of Wynette’s first marriage to Euple Byrd, which began in 1960 when she was a 17-year-old high school senior.

Wynette had her second daughter in 1962, and the young family lived in impoverished conditions in Mississippi. Before she had her third daughter in 1965, she received shock therapy when she was hospitalized for depression. Ultimately, she left Byrd and headed for Nashville in 1966.

Jessica Chastain said she once thought Tammy Wynette was a ‘bad example for women’

Tammy Wynette performs on stage at the Country Music Festival held at Wembley Arena, London, in April 1978.
Tammy Wynette | David Redfern/Redferns

George & Tammy star Jessica Chastain talked to NPR about portraying Wynette for Showtime’s limited series. She confessed she initially had difficulty relating to the country music icon because she had misconceptions.

“… I imagined that she was, in some sense, a bad example for women,” she explained.

Chastain offered that she “probably misjudged” Wynette. “You know, there’s this idea of ‘Stand By Your Man’ and ‘Run, Woman, Run,'” she said. “… A lot of these songs are, you know, you need a man in your life. You’ve got to run back to him ’cause you may not find someone else.”

She also mentioned the “whole feminist movement against” Wynette’s song, “Stand By Your Man,” and the “controversy” with Hillary Clinton. “I think for me, it felt like, wow, I’m really going to cross a bridge here,” she explained. “How am I going to relate to this person?”

Jessica Chastain ‘probably misjudged’ Tammy Wynette until she learned more about her, like how she underwent shock therapy

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Despite Chastain’s initial reservations, she eventually realized there was more to the former hairdresser’s story. She told NPR, “The reality is … when [Wynette] showed up in Nashville, she showed up with three kids. She was a single, divorced woman.”

Chastain added, “She had been institutionalized and had electric shock therapy for trying to leave her first husband.”

“And then the more reading I did about her, I was just really shocked by everything she went through,” she went on. “And I developed this empathy. … I felt more shame about myself for my misjudgments and preconceived ideas of who she was.”

How to get help: To connect with mental health resources near you, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.