Everyone has a friend who claims that he or she hates country music but loves Garth Brooks. With legendary live performances and songs that boast sing-in-the-shower catchiness, Brooks has captivated fans to the tune of more than 148 million records sold, making him the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history (sorry, Elvis).
Since bursting onto the scene almost 30 years ago with his self-titled 1989 debut album, Troyal Garth Brooks has slowed down a little in more recent years. A little. And while he now lists eating and napping as two of his favorite hobbies and claims he uses his guitar more to “hide my gut” than anything else, make no mistake about it: Brooks is far from done. Here are seven things you might not have known about the iconic musician, who turns 56 years old today.
1. HE MET HIS FIRST WIFE WHEN HE THREW HER OUT OF A BAR.
While working as a bouncer during his senior year of college, Brooks was required to toss an unruly woman. Little did he know that that woman, Sandy Mahl, would become his wife just a couple of years later.
“My job was to escort people out that caused disturbances,” Brooks recalled. “She beat me about nine times close to hell that night, too. I finally got her outside and I just kept noticing how cute she was … I asked her out. She told me to drop dead.”
The couple married in 1986 and divorced 15 years later. In 2005, Brooks married fellow country superstar Trisha Yearwood.
2. HE SANG WITH KISS.
It’s no secret that Brooks is a huge rock ‘n’ roll fan. In fact, his live shows during the 1990s were heavily influenced by acts like Queen and KISS. Fortunately for Brooks, KISS decided to produce a tribute album, Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved, in 1994 and asked him to contribute. Brooks played with the band and sang lead vocals on the track “Hard Luck Woman.”
Brooks later sang the tune on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (which you can see in the clip above).
3. KEEPING UP HIS CHRIS GAINES ALTER EGO WAS TOO MUCH WORK.
In 1999 the album “Garth Brooks in… The Life of Chris Gaines” was released in an attempt to generate enthusiasm for a potential movie about Brooks’s fictional alter ego, Chris Gaines. Little enthusiasm occurred, however, and the movie was shelved. But Brooks has no regrets about the Chris Gaines experiment and would not be averse to revisiting it if it weren’t for the problem of weight and long hours.
“I love the music, and that’s what it’s all about,” Brooks said earlier this year. “Would I love to do a second one? Sure. Would I ever drop that much weight again? I don’t think I could.”
Brooks believes that his appearance was partly to blame for the failure of Chris Gaines:
“There is a ton of Garth in Chris, once you start to get familiar with Chris’s music. But one of the things that still will never settle easy with a lot of people, including my dad still doesn’t get it, is how this kind of face, that looks like this and has for a decade, sings a song that goes [sings in falsetto] ‘There’s no more waiting.’ It’s very strange to see that coming out of this face.”
“I got the sh*t kicked out of me for doing that,” Brooks told Larry King of his time as Chris Gaines. “That was fun to do though. Those guys work too hard for me. The guys in the pop world. We were up ‘til three or four every morning. Country music we’re at home eating dinner at six.”
4. HE TURNED DOWN A ROLE IN SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
At least allegedly. In 2013, a former business partner filed a lawsuit against Brooks in which she claimed, among other things, that Brooks was approached to play the role of Private Jackson (the part that eventually went to Barry Pepper) in Saving Private Ryan, but that Brooks did not want to be cast under Hanks’s shadow. The suit also claimed that Brooks turned down a role in Twister because “the star of the film was the tornado and Brooks wanted to be the star.”
5. HE WAS SIGNED TO A MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL CONTRACT.
MIKE FIALA/AFP/Getty Images
Brooks has always been a solid athlete; he earned a track and field scholarship to Oklahoma State University, where he threw the javelin. In 1999 the San Diego Padres signed him to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. Brooks played mostly left field and finished the spring with one hit in 22 tries for a .045 batting average. After getting his first (and only) hit, Brooks was met at first base with a hug from future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. The next year, he signed with the New York Mets and took one more shot at the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 2004.
6. HE TRIED TO DONATE PART OF HIS LIVER.
When longtime friend and fellow country music artist Chris LeDoux was diagnosed with a disease of the bile ducts, Brooks graciously offered him a portion of his own liver. Although Brooks’s liver was incompatible, LeDoux was able to undergo a transplant in 2000 and release two more albums before being diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct in 2004. He passed away the following year.
7. HE HAS AN MBA.
Brooks has great business acumen (it would be hard to sell 148 million albums without it). In 2011 he was able to make it official, however, when he received his Master of Business Administration from Oklahoma State University. And not an honorary one, either—this one was legit.