Johnny PayCheck dies at 64. The ''Take This Job and Shove It'' singer lived a life as rough as his lyrics

By Gary Susman
Updated February 20, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Johnny PayCheck, the outlaw country artist whose biggest hit was ”Take This Job and Shove It,” died Tuesday at 64, according to a statement by the Grand Ole Opry. He died of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Nashville, where he’d been bedridden since last April with emphysema, asthma, and a lung infection.

Born Donald Eugene Lytle, the singer (who legally changed his name to Johnny Paycheck in 1963 and started capitalizing the C in the mid-1990s) lived a life as two-fisted as his lyrics. During a stint in the Navy, he assaulted a superior officer and served two years in prison. He served another two years in the early ’90s for a bar fight in which he shot at a man and grazed his head. His songs included ”I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised),” ”(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone to Kill,” and ”I Drop More Than I Drink.”

PayCheck enjoyed his greatest fame in the mid-’70s, the heyday of outlaw country singers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe. In 1977, he recorded Coe’s ”Take This Job…”, and the blue-collar anthem became a No. 1 country hit and inspired a 1981 movie starring Barbara Hershey and ”Airplane!”’s Robert Hays.

Drugs, alcohol, and his legal troubles (including a suit filed by the IRS that bankrupted him) derailed his career in the ’80s, but in the ’90s, he became a born-again Christian and an anti-drug counselor. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1997 and continued to perform for fans who expected the hellraiser of old. ”They still remember me as that crazy, good-time-Charlie honky-tonker,” he said at the time, ”and I don’t tell ’em any different.”