When tragedy struck in 1991, keeping busy helped her cope. A chartered plane carrying eight members of her road band crashed near San Diego, killing all. "She grieved like she had lost family," recalls Davis, who was part of her group at the time. But McEntire is enormously resilient. "She's a very disciplined woman," Davis adds. She assembled another band, dedicated her next album, For My Broken Heart, to her late fellow musicians and headed back out on the road.
Two years later McEntire unexpectedly veered in another direction. She'd always had a hankering to act, and in 1995 she played Annie Oakley in the TV movie Buffalo Girls. The role was a natural. "You don't want to be on her bad side," jokes Davis. "You know that shotgun? We used to do a lot of trap shooting, and she can hold her own when it comes to protecting herself."
Still, almost no one was prepared for McEntire's theatrical incarnation of the famed sharpshooter in 2001's Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun. Declared the New York Times: "Without qualification the best performance by an actress in a musical comedy this season." It was her first play.
"People said, 'Weren't you scared you were going to fail?'" McEntire remembers. "I'm not afraid of failure. I just want to try things. If they don't work out, I'll do something else."
Shelby was 11 at the time, and McEntire and Blackstock assumed he'd eventually follow his older brother, Brandon, who manages country singer Blake Shelton, into the business. But later, when Shelby was struggling with his grades in college, he made a deal with his mother: If he finished the year strong, she would send him to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. The bet paid off. In another two years, he became a professional driver, racing in the Grand-Am series in Daytona and Indianapolis.
McEntire tries to arrange her schedule around his races. "When I found out I had interviews in L.A. the day he was running Indianapolis, I almost cried," she says. She suffers from some nerves as well. "You never quit worrying about your children."
Now a grandmother to five, McEntire plans to spend family time at her farm outside of Nashville for the holidays. Often, even in the middle of work, she and Blackstock will gather the whole brood and take off somewhere. "Narvel will go, 'OK, we've got three days; where do you want to go?' We keep it interesting."
So it's no wonder that McEntire says, "I love what I'm doing, and I love me in my skin. Of course, I'm still trying to figure out how to fix my hair, because I never learned that as a kid." She laughs. She keeps a bucket list: performing on Broadway again, traveling, and saddling up for a trail ride with her country music singing mentor, Red Steagall. And while she'd rather sleep in a hotel than under the stars, when asked to write the headline of her life right now, she offers a puckish grin and says, "I am a very grateful happy camper."
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