While Audrey Williams's claim to fame has been her marriage to country music legend Hank Williams, she also longed for a music career of her own. Her desire for fame led to a series of duets with her husband, a solo career in the 1950s, and the formation of a backing vocal group called the Cold Cold Hearts. Although Williams never found fame and, according to many critics, lacked vocal talent, she played an important role in her husband's rise to fame in an era when women were seldom allowed to take leading roles in management, even in the management of their own careers. Furthermore, she played a central role in promoting Hank Williams' legacy and launching the career of Hank Williams, Jr.
Audrey Mae Sheppard was born on February 28, 1923, in Banks, AL. Sheppard met Hank Williams in 1943, and the two married in Andalusia, AL, in December of 1944, ten days before Sheppard's divorce from her first husband was finalized. Audrey Williams worked diligently to promote her new husband's career, and by 1946, they had made the acquaintance of Fred Rose of Acuff-Rose Publishing, a key figure in Hank Williams' later success. Audrey Williams occasionally performed with the Drifting Cowboys and sung a number of duets with her husband. Their relationship, however, was often strained, partially due to Hank Williams' alcoholism. The two separated, reunited, and eventually divorced on December 31, 1951, one year before Hank Williams' death. The couple had one child, Hank Williams, Jr.
Following Hank Williams' death, Audrey Williams worked within the country music community as a music publisher and booking agent. "Through the 1950s and '60s," one writer noted, "Audrey was a powerful force in the traditionally all-male Country Music business with her own record label, publishing and film production companies, talent search, and touring all-star show." She pursued an unsuccessful solo career on Decca and MGM during the 1950s, and later formed the vocal group called the Cold Cold Hearts to back her in one more comeback attempt. Williams was hampered, however, by her reputation for her "out-of-control emotions and substance abuse," noted Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann in Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music. Few promoters were willing to take a chance on Williams, and when the Cold Cold Hearts broke up in 1970, she also left the music business.
Williams' later years (1970-1975) were highlighted by substance abuse, a suicide attempt, and financial problems. Although she had attempted to direct the career of Hank Williams, Jr., the two became estranged after he turned 18. She was arrested for drunk driving and also gathered media attention when she held a Hank Williams garage sale. By the mid-'70s her finances were in disarray and she owed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes. The day before the IRS arrived to repossess her home, however, Williams died in bed on November 4, 1975.
One of the odder legacies of the Williams' is the Audrey and Hank Williams Recovery Center, a facility founded in Nashville to help individuals struggling with substance abuse.