Tim McGraw Reveals ‘Traumatic’ Story Behind ‘Live Like You Were Dying’

The song will always remind McGraw of his late father.

Written by Chris Parton
Tim McGraw Reveals ‘Traumatic’ Story Behind ‘Live Like You Were Dying’
Tim McGraw; Photo credit: Robby Klein

Country superstar Tim McGraw scored a massive, career-defining hit with the big-picture anthem, “Live Like You Were Dying.” But he says now the 2004 smash hit a little too close to home.

Chatting with actor Matthew McConaughey on McGraw’s Beyond the Influence Radio for Apple Music Country, the icon explains that he first heard the song while his father, Tug, was battling brain cancer. It ultimately took the professional baseball pitcher’s life, and changed his son’s life forever.

“It showed up and was sent to me in the middle of my father’s diagnosis of glioblastoma brain cancer and going through all of his treatments,” McGraw says on the show. “He stayed at my cabin out at the farm, and we were spending a lot of nights out there with my uncle and my brother, just hanging out, listening to music and watching football games. We spent a couple of weeks there before he passed away in the bedroom there in the cabin.”

McGraw never played the song for his dad, he says, feeling like it wouldn’t be right. He also almost declined to record it, McGraw goes on, fearing critics might say he was “playing” off his father’s death. But he ultimately decided Tug would have appreciated the song’s message — plus the fact that crowds were cheering for him once more. By the time McGraw finally felt moved to record it, he says it was an unforgettable moment.

“My Uncle Hank was there, my dad’s older brother, and we had been recording all day,” Tim McGraw says. “And about three o’clock in the morning, I looked around at the band. I said, ‘I think it’s time to do this song.’ We spent the next three hours up until sunup recording this song, and my uncle collapsed in a couch crying every time we did a pass of it. That’s got to be one of the most special memories I have of making any music anywhere.”

Full of carpe-diem energy and adventure-seeking lyrics, “Live Like You Were Dying” was co-written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman. The track eventually spent seven weeks at Number One on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and won both the ACM and CMA Song and Single of the Year, as well as the Grammy awards for Best Country Song and Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Listen to the full episode of Beyond the Influence Radio right here.