Charlie Dick's red brick house fronts a well-kept lawn in Belshire, Tenn., a few miles north of Nashville. On the outside, the house is as up-to-date as any other tract home in this quiet neighborhood. But inside, just off the kitchen, there is a cozy room that seems frozen in the past. On one wall hangs a painting of a dark, curly-haired woman. Copies of her hit country & Western recordings are stacked neatly on a shelf, and her music awards are displayed in simple wood frames. The woman is Patsy Cline, and Charlie Dick has set up this room as a shrine to the memory of the singer who was killed in a plane crash on Mar. 6, 1963. "She was quite a gal," recalls Dick, who was married to Patsy for the last six years of her life and is the father of her two children. "When the two of us were together—look out! We had the best time."

Dick, 51, is not the only person obsessed with Cline. Her albums still sell 75,000 copies a year, and now the movie Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange as Patsy and Ed Harris as Charlie, has introduced Cline's haunting voice and passionate personality to a new generation of music lovers. "Patsy is still around because she is what we all want to be—a real star," says her friend Dottie West. "And people can't get enough of a real star."

Patsy's survivors agree that Lange (who lip-synchs all of Cline's music) brilliantly captures the singer's spirit. As for Harris, he does "a helluva job playing old Charlie Dick," says old Charlie Dick. The movie focuses on the Dicks' turbulent marriage, and though Charlie himself admits that "Patsy and I were really worse than they made us look in the film," he goes on to say that "they changed a lot of things to sell tickets. If my kids were younger, I'd be pissed off."

Patsy's 27-year-old daughter, Julie Connor, objects to a vicious fight scene in which Dick slaps Cline in front of Julie and then ends up in jail on wife-beating charges. "I know my parents fought," says Julie. "Sometimes they fought hard. But my father never hit my mother in front of me." Dick confesses that he occasionally smacked Cline and that he once spent a night in jail for beating her up. Says Charlie: "Strangers would've thought we were gonna knock each other out, but we were just livin'. We made up as hard as we fought. We had a lot of fun making up."

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, Patsy grew up in the rural poverty of Winchester, Va. She quit school at 16 to help support her mother and sister. (Her father, Sam, a handyman, had abandoned the family years before.) Patsy started singing at square dances and in seedy bars. Then in 1957 she won a competition on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and her career was launched.

Dick was born just six miles from Winchester, and quit school at 16, after his parents were killed in a car accident. During the day, he toiled as a printer for a local newspaper. After work he prowled the area night spots. One evening, at a square dance in Berryville, Va., he saw Cline perform and, after her show, asked her to dance. At the time, Patsy was married to a tepid general contractor named Gerald Cline, but she was immediately drawn to Dick's swaggering charm. In 1957 she divorced her husband and married Dick. "I was a ladies' man," says Charlie, "but that stopped when I met Patsy."

Dick was simultaneously proud and jealous of his wife, an ambivalence that often erupted in bouts of drinking, followed by violence. "Patsy could really hold her own. She was strong and that was sometimes rough on a tough guy like Charlie," says Dottie West. "Maybe Charlie turned to drinking because of her assertiveness. In the early '60s very few women were as opinionated and commanded as much respect as Patsy."

"She was a determined woman," Dick remembers. "She was what you'd call a career gal today. Patsy said to me before we got married, 'Someday I'm gonna be a famous singer, and if you want to be beside me, then let's do it.' From then on, it was one show, one record, one dollar after another. Patsy was so determined to sing that she worked the Opry one night and gave birth to Randy the next."

Cline's friends also talk of her generosity. "She taught June Carter, Dottie West and me so much," says Loretta Lynn. "She taught us everything about singin', about how to act onstage, how to stagger the numbers, how to dress. When I heard that morning that Patsy was gone, I said out loud, 'What am I going to do?' It was like a rug had been pulled out from under me. She was my friend, my mentor, my strength."

Julie Connor was only 4 when Cline died, yet she has fond memories. "My mother always had time for us," says Julie, who lives in Nashville and is the divorced mother of two daughters. "She would sit for hours and color in coloring books with me. That's what's important to a child—those special little moments." Julie's 24-year-old brother Randy, an aspiring rock musician living in Nashville, hardly remembers his mother. Perhaps the person who feels Patsy's loss most is her mother, Hilda Hensley. Today Hensley, 70, lives alone in a large three-bedroom house in Winchester, where she passes her days sewing and reading romance novels. "Grandma loved my mother so much," says Julie, "that it is still hard for her to talk about her."

After Patsy's death, Dick didn't do much of anything for a year. "We were getting royalties from Patsy's records, so money wasn't a problem," he says. Finally, at a friend's suggestion, he decided to become a talent promoter, a skill he learned while married to Cline. While promoting local Nashville talent, Dick met his second wife, Jamie Ryan, also a country & Western singer. The couple, who have a son, Chip, 17, were divorced in 1972. Dick insists their breakup had nothing to do with Patsy, but he admits they moved out of the white brick house he once shared with Cline because of painful memories. "Jamie was bothered by living in Patsy's house," he says. "It prompted a lot of talk about Patsy. That bothered Jamie because, well, you just can't compete with Patsy—alive or not."

Dick doesn't mind playing midwife to the current rebirth of Cline music. "I've been talking about Patsy since the day she died," says Dick. "But now it's on a much bigger scale. Now everybody wants to know about me and my crazy girl." Patsy's surviving relatives still receive record royalties, so Charlie is spending much of his time trying to parlay the movie's popularity into increased sales of Cline's records. In a way it's a return to a happier time, when Dick and Cline were riding the crest. "Patsy and I just didn't sit around and talk about what we wanted," says Dick. "We went out there together and got it."

  • Contributors:
  • Jeff Yarbrough.