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On August 6, 1973, a police contact called veteran crime reporter Ralph Miller with a tip-off that Stevie Wonder, a 23-year-old musician, was in a coma at the local Rowan Memorial Hospital in North Carolina. Wonder had been in a horrific crash on Interstate 85 and was fighting for his life. It quickly became evident to Miller and the hospital staff that they were caring for a superstar. The Jackson 5 even offered their private jet for any necessary transfers. The media besieged the nurses, and even celebrities like Paul McCartney and Roberta Flack reached out for updates on Wonder’s condition. He had taken the pop charts by storm that year with hits like “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition”.
Wonder’s crash occurred 50 years ago today and was a momentous day for the future of music. Wonder miraculously escaped death on the roads, a fate that tragically took the lives of many other great musicians. It was a sultry, dry Monday afternoon, just three days after the release of his magnificent album Innervisions. Wonder had performed at a concert in South Carolina the night before. He was in the passenger seat of a rental car driven by his cousin when the crash happened near Salisbury, North Carolina.
There are various accounts of what happened in the crash. One myth states that a giant pine log crashed through the windshield and speared Wonder in the forehead. However, images taken at the crash scene show that the truck involved was carrying only small pieces of wood. Wonder suffered head injuries and was rushed to the nearest hospital by members of his band. He was later transferred to the intensive care unit at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, where “life-saving surgery” was performed on him. Wonder’s appearance in intensive care shocked friends and colleagues, but they believed in the power of music to bring him back. His chief of staff sang to him, and eventually, his fingers started moving in time with the song.
Wonder spent two weeks in the hospital and developed a friendship with a security guard named Larry Woolard. He then traveled to Los Angeles to continue his recovery at a medical center. Wonder experienced loss of smell and taste and suffered from headaches and fatigue for the next year. His friend Elton John played a crucial role in motivating him to play his instruments again. In September 1973, just seven weeks after the crash, Wonder joined John on stage for a performance and gradually gained confidence in performing live again.
Wonder’s doctors advised him to cancel his upcoming tour, causing him to become anxious about returning to the stage. However, with the support of friends like Elton John, he eventually made a triumphant return to performing. Today, Wonder’s crash serves as a reminder of the importance of perseverance and the healing power of music.