Rory Feek has always tasted fame from his writing — mostly for his songs, more recently from a screenplay and his widely read blog.
But the country and bluegrass musician readily admits why many people recognize him these days.
“I am famous for loving my wife,” he writes in the beginning of his new book, “This Life I Live." The subtitle of his memoir is "One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever.”
And that woman would be his musical partner and wife of 14 years, Joey Martin Feek, who passed away at age 40 from cervical cancer on March 4, 2016. Rory documented her health battle through poignantly written posts and moving photos and videos he shared on his blog, which shares the same name as his book and was created years earlier following the birth of the couple’s daughter.
For much of the first half of the book, Rory reflects on a transient, unpredictable childhood and the numerous indiscretions and poor judgment calls he made as a young man, particularly when it came to women.
He told TODAY that sharing those stories helped provide context about the impact his wife, and their faith, had on his life.
“I have been blessed with the chance to not only be part of a beautiful story with Joey, but also have the chance to tell the parts about me and my life that weren’t so beautiful,” he said.
“I’m trying to be honest and share the good and the bad and the ugly and the really beautiful. And maybe some other folks could see themselves in there somewhere and be encouraged.”
Rory also describes the roller-coaster fluctuations of single parenthood, raising two now-grown daughters from a previous marriage to a woman who “had moved on from our lives.” He recounts his path to becoming a prolific songwriter after finally settling in Nashville, and landing a five-year contract that paid $300 a week.
And finally, he writes of how he met Joey, a practical but determined singer who worked at a horse vet clinic while chasing her dream of becoming a famous musician. Rory proposed two months after they began a whirlwind courtship, but the couple weathered some rocky years following their wedding that may surprise fans.
“I always believed that one of the most important parts of our story is the struggles, my own personal struggles and when Joey and I struggled early in our marriage,” Rory said.
“Sometimes, people look at our life and our marriage as a magical kind of story, but a lot of it really is about the journey and how we got to where we were, and where we are,” he said. “Our story is very beautiful but when you give it context, it can change everything.”
Rory said writing the book has been an extension of the freedom he feels when writing on his blog, which allows him to express his voice and share his story in a way that songwriting can’t.
“The stories I could tell there weren’t confined to three minutes or any of the other things that music and TV required. In the blog, I could just write what was on my heart, what we were going through and how I felt about it,” he said. “I no longer had to be concerned with whether the subject matter was popular or commercial. I could just be honest and push 'publish' and that was it. That has been wonderful.”
Joey was first diagnosed with cancer just after the February 2014 birth of their daughter, Indiana, and learning that she had Down syndrome. Rory chronicled his wife’s treatment, and their discovery of the cancer’s return, on his blog, which soon developed a fiercely devoted following that reached far beyond the country music fans who originally made up their audience.
Rory said he found it a blessing that so many cared about their family during such a difficult period. He also feels grateful that it helped introduce their music to more people.
These days, Rory is back home outside Nashville, making repairs on his farmhouse that had been let go for the past years while Joey spent time in and out of hospitals, or while the family temporarily moved to Joey's hometown in Indiana during her final months.
He also said his goal for the new year is to be a better father — and a better husband.
“I don’t feel one ounce less married or less committed to Joey or less with her, even,” he said.
But that’s not because he hasn’t finished mourning his wife.
“I just think I’m going to spend my life talking about my wife. She’s a big part of the story that I’m telling,” he said. “And that’s not really a part of grieving, it’s a part of celebrating such an amazing person.
“Whether it’s in the blog or in book form or whatever it happens to be. It’s a continual celebration of the gift that she’s been to me and still is to me.”