Singer Charlie Rich had a 35-year career that included eleven #1 hits on the Country charts and hit crossovers of “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl”. The Silver Fox performances pleased a variety of audiences, but not his performance on the evening of October 13, 1975. That night he stood on the stage of the Country Music Association of America awards show where just a year earlier he had won the top award, Entertainer of the Year. He was to announce the 1975 winner of the same award. He opened the envelope, extracted the card inside, and held it up in front of him. But then as he said: “The award goes to my friend, John Denver,” he pulled out his Zippo lighter and set fire to the card. With a big grin, he held the burning card up for the shocked audiences and the cameras filming the live program.
It was assumed at the time that Rich was making a statement about pop incursions into traditional country music. At the previous CMA Awards in 1974, Olivia-Newton John was given the Female Vocalist of the Year Award, setting off a stampede of criticism by traditional country stars, some of whom formed a competing organization, the Association of Country Entertainers, to fight the influx of pop upstarts. However, Rich said it was really just a lot of prescription pain medications, aided and abetted by a healthy number of gin and tonics, that made him do it.