Luke Bryan Opens Up About the Two Tragedies That Nearly Broke Him

Country singer almost never made it to Nashville to pursue a music career.

ByABC News
November 4, 2013, 2:25 PM

Nov. 4, 2013— -- Fresh off his first major arena headlining tour, hip-shaking hit maker Luke Bryan has a career on the rise, with his single "That's My Kind of Night" currently ruling the top of country music charts, and a certified platinum album titled "Crash My Party."

While Bryan is famous for his signature shake on stage, the country boy told ABC News "20/20's" Amy Robach that the attention still makes him nervous.

"I've had panic attacks, you know, before big moments," Bryan said. "It's kind of fun. You know ... you want that anxiety of a big ... I mean, I'm nervous."

Born Thomas Luther Bryan, the country singer was the youngest son of a peanut farmer from rural Leesburg, Ga.

"He was sickly when he was little baby, so I bounced him all the time ... and hummed "'Rock of Ages,'" Bryan's mother, LeClaire, told "20/20." "He could literally hum "Rock of Ages" before he could talk."

Bryan later joined high school musicals and started his own band. By the time he was 19, he planned to move to Nashville to follow his dreams.

But days before Bryan was going to leave home, tragedy struck his family.

"My older brother, Chris, was unexpectedly killed in a ... car accident," Bryan said. "I'm kind of hyperventilating talking about it. ... You never truly ... move beyond it."

Bryan put his Nashville dreams on hold, stayed home and went to college, working on his father's farm during the day and playing in bars at night.

"We knew Luke at some point would come to Nashville," his mother said. "But ... you can't leave your family, and ... I couldn't bear the thought of him being away."

While Bryan's sense of duty kept him home, Bryan's father knew the only way to get Bryan to pursue a music career was to fire him.

"I said, 'You know, if you're going to pursue your music career, you need to pack your truck up and move to Nashville,'" his father Tommy Bryan told "20/20."

Once in Nashville, Bryan found initial success as a songwriter, and soon after, he was signed as a performer and had his first hit song, "All My Friends Say."

When he was invited to perform at the famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Bryan's older sister, Kelly Cheshire, organized 129 people, practically Bryan's entire hometown, to attend his Opry debut.

Tragically, just a few days after Bryan's performance, his sister died at home. Bryan said the cause remains undetermined.

"My only older siblings ... gone from the world, in a flash in two, two different, crazy, tragic manners, that ... we'll never know, and never understand."

While previously private about this side of his life, Bryan said he wanted to let people know they're not alone in their sorrow.

"You can lean on friends and family through it ... and you can get back life."

He continued, "If me telling my story moves people down a positive path of hope and getting up out of the bed and getting back going, then, you know, it's certainly worth telling."