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River of No Return: Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Woman He Loved Hardcover – May 1, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "Ernie Ford was never known for having a passion to succeed," his son deadpans in this masterfully rendered biography of the entertainer, best known for his song "Sixteen Tons," whose lifelong alcoholism and chronic depression drove himself and his first wife to their deaths. Ambition notwithstanding, Tennessee Ernie Ford possessed a winning combination of talent and luck that made him one of the biggest stars in the country, with numerous Top Ten hits and, at the height of his popularity, a weekly television show watched by millions. The younger Ford gives readers an in-depth look behind the curtain, painting a multilayered portrait of the man who hid his pain behind a salt-of-the-earth Everyman pose. The heart of the book is Ford's doomed relationship with his first wife Betty, who would, after more than 40 years of marriage, take her own life. Though storm clouds continually threaten, the Fords' life wasn't all dark; Ford includes colorful anecdotes featuring celebrities like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, their neighbor, as well as happy family memories like Disneyland on opening day. Though Ernie recorded hundreds of songs, Ford keeps his dad's career manageable with broad strokes, delving into minutiae only when the topic turns to mega-hit "Sixteen Tons" and the beginning of his gospel period. Ford's ability to stay both honest and impartial make this a compulsively readable story, and a fine model for celebrity bios to come. Even readers unfamiliar with Ford's massive body of work will find the drama, pain and success that marked his life fascinating.
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Review

"Ernie Ford was never known for having a passion to succeed," his son deadpans in this masterfully rendered biography of the entertainer, best known for his song "Sixteen Tons," whose lifelong alcoholism and chronic depression drove himself and his first wife to their deaths. Ambition notwithstanding, Tennessee Ernie Ford possessed a winning combination of talent and luck that made him one of the biggest stars in the country, with numerous Top Ten hits and, at the height of his popularity, a weekly television show watched by millions. The younger Ford gives readers an in-depth look behind the curtain, painting a multilayered portrait of the man who hid his pain behind a salt-of-the-earth Everyman pose. The heart of the book is Ford's doomed relationship with his first wife Betty, who would, after more than 40 years of marriage, take her own life. Though storm clouds continually threaten, the Fords' life wasn't all dark; Ford includes colorful anecdotes featuring celebrities like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, their neighbor, as well as happy family memories like Disneyland on opening day. Though Ernie recorded hundreds of songs, Ford keeps his dad's career manageable with broad strokes, delving into minutiae only when the topic turns to mega-hit "Sixteen Tons" and the beginning of his gospel period. Ford's ability to stay both honest and impartial make this a compulsively readable story, and a fine model for celebrity bios to come. Even readers unfamiliar with Ford's massive body work will find the drama, pain and success that marked his life fascinating.

--Publishers Weekly June 16, 2008

Verdict: Tennessee Ernie Ford was loved by millions. Unfortunately, his fame caused overwhelming problems for his wife and two sons. This memoir by Ernie's eldest is recommendable for larger libraries with interest in celebrity biographies.

Background: Jeffrey "Buck" Ford, the oldest son of Ernie and Betty Ford, writes about a life of wealth and privilege. He sensitively remembers the good and bad times of a disintegrating family. Tennessee Ernie Ford began his career in radio and soon became an instant hit. From hosting NBC's Ford Show (1956 61) to gold records (he's best known for his recording of "Sixteen Tons") and guest appearances, Tennessee Ernie became a major star. Growing up in a tumultuous environment took a toll on Jeffrey, his brother, and Ernie, whose wife, Betty, had a difficult time adjusting to Ernie's fame. Betty was a gifted artist who buried her pain in alcohol and prescription drugs. Ford's two sons disappointed him; Betty's attempted suicides and a failing career soon caused Ernie to become an alcoholic. Other biographies cannot emit the raw emotion and intimate details that Jeffrey has presented in this well-written and compelling memoir.

Rosalind Dayen, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL --Library Journal - April 15, 2008 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cumberland House Publishing; First Edition edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1581826532
  • ISBN-13: 978-1581826531
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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I purchased this book with some apprehension.
David G. Gladstone
Jeffery Buckner Ford has written a wonderful story of his journey as the son of Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Lynn L. Elks
This is a wonderful book, very interesting and entertaining to read!
Alphia D. Larkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ernest Jennings Ford was at heart a family man devoutly devoted to his wife and two sons. At the very peak of his Hollywood success, the man who will forever be known as "Tennessee Ernie" Ford, the radio character he created for himself, decided to walk away from all the glamour because of his concern for what the Hollywood lifestyle was doing to his family. The great irony of his life is that Ernie Ford would die in October 1991 under the care of a second wife who was determined to deny his two sons any part of his legacy, financial or otherwise, a woman who even tried to deny them access to their father's funeral.

In River of No Return, Jeffrey Buckner Ford, eldest of the Ford sons, mixes his fond memories of growing up next door to Bob Hope and of the several successful television series that his father hosted with sad recollections of how alcohol and pills ended up destroying both his parents. He speaks frankly of the addictions and dissatisfaction with her life that resulted in his mother's suicide after several earlier attempts had failed, and he speaks just as honestly of how his father failed to do the things that might have saved her life. Perhaps saddest of all is his disclosure of how Ernie Ford's decision to protect his sons by moving them from Hollywood was doomed to failure because of what the boys witnessed in their own home, wherever it might be located.

Betty Jean Heminger met Ernie Ford when he was stationed at Victorville Army Air Base in California, where she worked as a secretary; she was only nineteen years old when they married.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Henry Z. Jones, Jr. on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Tennessee Ernie Ford was one of the world's most beloved performers - 16 tons of talent who could do it all! In this remarkable book, his son Jeffrey Buckner ("Buck") Ford has written a poignant love letter to his parents, telling their story with unflinching honesty and candor.Their journey together as a family wasn't at all what the world thought it was, showing yet again that life is not always what it seems. The highs, the lows, the joys, and God knows the pains are all here - told in an extremely well-written book that's impossible to put down. I guarantee you'll need some extra Kleenex as you see how the pressures of super-stardom and unbelievable success were too hard to bear and changed them all forever. I can't recommend this book highly enough - truly one of the best books I've ever read!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James R. Stewar on June 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Tennessee Ford Shows were regular viewing events around our home when I was growing up (the day time shows and the history making night time show) in smalltown Circleville, Ohio. Ernie's shows represented the tops in tasteful entertainment for the entire family...and we especially enjoyed the courage it took for him to go against network brass, record executives and sponsors to make it fashionable (and very popular) to sing sacred songs. We were especially excited when family favorite Gisele MacKenzie would make an appearance with Ern (between the daytime and nighttime shows, she appeared four times), and became the only artist other than Ernie to sing the hymn of the week, and even did Ford commercials with Ernie! We only had thoughts of what a happy homelife Mr. Ford must have. How on earth did the dark side of the Ford family remain so covered up for all these years!?? I purchased this revealing book with great caution...I was fearful that I'd be getting another 'parent dearest' type book by a disgruntled relative! The book tells the heartbreaking story of a legend and his family and what booze can do to it and how things can become so ugly and out-of-control, like when Ernie's second wife had the legend's children banned from the superstar's funeral. The image of Ernie lying on air port floors, bleeding and drunk was almost too much for me to imagine or handle, but there it is in all its horrific detail. Although I thought I knew much about Ernie's life, I never dreamed that his 'beloved' first wife, Betty, hadn't died of natural causes. Jeffrey Ford masterfully and tastefull tells the dreadfully exasperating story of a broken family living a lie in the public spotlight...I felt his sons' pain...Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Rapchak on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tennessee Ernie was a true super-star, and yet the man himself was remarkably FREE of the neuroses and excesses that corrupt and destroy the personal lives of so many of them. He was a common man, as decent and unassuming as any major celebrity could possibly be....a loving husband and father, who cared deeply for his family, provided for them, treasured his vacation time with them, and ultimately longed to retire from the meat-grinder of show business and get back to life on the ranch. And yet, a combination of emotional and social influences (ie: the 1960's) STILL managed to undermine and seriously damage the relationship of Ernie Ford, his wife and their two sons, one of whom (Jeff "Buck" Ford) has penned this intense, super-charged emotional chronicle.

This is NOT a typical biography, though it does contain a lot of factual information. In many respects, it's not my cup of tea. The author's literary style occasionally veers into purplish excess (his descriptions of crying and liquor, for instance, include "liquid", "lubrication", "salty thick stream", etc); however, these are balanced by other passages, such as his memories of his family's sunset sailing adventures in Hawaii, that are truly poetic and beautifully worded.

There are passages that seem to go on forever....including an overwrought description of one of Ernie's hunting buddies who accidentally shot himself in the butt, a grotesque retelling that has NOTHING important to do with the narrative of the book. These sections are frustrating, since I had hoped to find more detailed information about, say, Ernie's professional working relationship with his fabulous musical director, Jack Fascinato.
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