Larry Gatlin Reveals That He’s the Mystery Country Addict Mentioned in Matthew McConaughey’s Memoir
The phone rang, and country music legend Larry Gatlin quickly answered. It was his daughter Kristen, who coincidentally had just picked up a copy of Matthew McConaughey‘s critically acclaimed memoir, Greenlights.
And from the mere sound of her voice, Gatlin knew something was up.
“She said to me, ‘Dad, you are in Matthew McConaughey’s book … I know that’s you,'” Gatlin, 72, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.
And she was right.
Because in the Part Five: Turn the Page portion of the 2020 memoir, there is a story from McConaughey’s meticulously kept journals of a man simply referred to as “Larry,” a man who found himself years ago in the struggle of his life with addiction, a man who found himself with few places left to turn, a man desperately looking for help.
And that man happened to be the legendary Larry Gatlin.
“I remember the day, it was October something of 1999,” Gatlin remembers of the moment that occurred in the midst of his success as a member of the legendary country group Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. “[University of Texas Football] Coach [Darrell] Royal and I were talking. We had hit it off right away. For me, he was one of those people that you meet, and you instantly don’t have to explain anything to each other. We were at this Pro-Am party at this golf tournament, and Coach Royal caught me with white powder on my nose.”
Courtesy Larry Gatlin Larry Gatlin
As the book details, Gatlin immediately expressed his doubt to Royal that he could ever get his cocaine addiction under control, and began to spout off a long list of excuses that addicts often find comfort in. But then Royal, who died in 2012 following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, stopped Gatlin in his tracks.
“He told me, ‘Larry Wayne, I have never had any trouble turning the page in the book of my life,'” Gatlin remembers of the moment, beautifully recalled in the book that the singer/songwriter ended up listening to via audiobook. “He said to me, ‘It’s time you turned the page.'”
And Gatlin went and did just that. Soon after that life-altering conversation, Royal took Gatlin straight to treatment at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in California.
“Coach Royal did not send me to treatment … he took me to treatment,” Gatlin remembers. “Darrell knew what I was doing. He was one of the smartest and wisest men. And his wife? They both really did save my life. I think about it every day. Hopefully, I’ll be there to help somebody sometime like they did for me. I would be long dead if it hadn’t been for them.”
Indeed, Gatlin, has gone on to enjoy the past 37 years living a sober and successful life, filled with multiple moments in which he has found himself telling his addiction story to all who would listen. But never did he envision the story making it into McConaughey’s book.
“I’m so very grateful to Matthew,” Gatlin says of the 51-year-old Oscar-winning actor. “You never know when what we read is going to change our lives. I was able to kick my addictions thanks to my wife and my family and my God and an incredible program of recovery. But now, I truly believe there will be people that will read Greenlights and they are going to thank McConaughey for putting my story in there.”
Jason Davis/Getty Larry Gatlin
And while the book was released back in October of 2020, Gatlin recently made the decision to share with PEOPLE an exclusive video in which he reveals to the world that he is truly the ‘Larry’ in McConaughey’s book as part of the #GreenlightsChallenge, a social media movement in which people post videos of themselves narrating portions of the book while impersonating McConaughey’s iconic style of reading.
“I was on a Zoom with him last month and I was like, ‘Put my name in the damn book,'” Gatlin laughs of the recent conversation he had with the accomplished actor. “That made him laugh. And we went on to reminisce talk about Coach Royal and how much we missed him and how much he had an effect on our lives. And in terms of Matthew, I mean, that man is going to shake the world up. I think this book is not only going to help people get in touch with Matthew, but also get in touch with themselves about being honest.”
He pauses for a moment.
“We all screw up, for God’s sake,” says Gatlin, who made a triumphant return to touring earlier this month alongside his musical brothers playing their long list of hits including “All the Gold in California,” “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You)” and “Broken Lady.” “We all have secrets. The best thing is to get them out in the open and be the one to tell them, so no one can point a finger and call you a liar.”
Today, with his days of addiction far behind him, Gatlin recalls the legendary speech from baseball great Lou Gehrig, and says that he feels like the luckiest person on earth in so many ways.
“Lord knows that I have done some things I wish I hadn’t done,” concludes Gatlin, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early March. “But it brought me to right here, right now, sitting on this back porch on this swing watching my wife [Janis] chase away the bees from her honeysuckle plants. Life is so very good. And quite frankly, I’m proud to know Matthew and I’m thankful for him. But yeah, put my name in the book son!”