Though his late 1970s albums were well received by critics and his core audience, Stewart never established a large audience. He was often labeled as “too country” for rock listeners and “too rock” for country fans. In 1980, he released the Chips Moman-produced Cactus and a Rose which featured Southern rockers Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Mike Lawler, and Bonnie Bramlett. It did not garner much airplay and RCA teamed Stewart up with songwriter Dean Dillon for a pair of duet records. Soon after, Stewart returned to Florida, where alcoholism and drug use kept him from recording for much of the 1980s. His son, Gary Joseph Stewart, committed suicide late in the decade as well. Stewart signed with the HighTone label in 1988 and recorded three albums over the next five years. These albums included fan favorites like the minor hit “An Empty Glass (That’s the Way the Day Ends)” (written by Stewart and Dillon), “Let’s Go Jukin'” (written by Stewart and Betts), and “Brand New Whiskey” (written by Stewart and his wife).
Stewart continued to tour through the 1990s, playing venues such as Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s Texas several times a year. During this time Bob Dylan, while touring with Tom Petty in Florida, drove out of his way to meet Stewart, “confessing that he’d played Stewart’s ode to marital malaise ‘Ten Years of This’ over and over, the record casting a spell over him.” In 2003, Stewart released Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, his first album in ten years and his first-ever live album. Reviewers at Allmusic gave it good marks.
There were numerous pro-audio and pro-video recordings of Gary Stewart performing full sets live at Billy Bob’s Texas, although representatives with the Smith Music Group have stated there are currently no plans to release them for public consumption.
On November 26, 2003, the day before Thanksgiving, his wife of nearly 43 years, Mary Lou, died of pneumonia. Stewart, who had been scheduled to play Billy Bob’s three days later, canceled his concert appearances. His friends later told reporters that he was extremely despondent after Mary Lou’s death. On December 16, his daughter’s boyfriend and Stewart’s very close friend, Bill Hardman, visited his Fort Pierce, Florida, home to check on his welfare. They found Stewart dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the neck.
- May, 28, 1945
- Jenkins, Kentucky
- December, 16, 2003
- Fort Pierce, Florida
Cause of Death
- self inflicted gunshot to head