The Untold Truth Of Billy Ray Cyrus

Depending on when you were born, you know about Billy Ray Cyrus in one of three ways. For some, their introduction to Cyrus was the release of his 1992 mega hit "Achy Breaky Heart." For others, Cyrus is the man who starred as Hannah Montana's dad on the show by the same name. For still others, Cyrus is the guitarist and singer who joined Lil Nas X in 2019's hit song "Old Town Road," and who even performed at the BET Awards alongside Lil Nas X, who Cyrus now considers to be family.

As you can see, there is so much to know about Cyrus. From catching his big break while performing with Reba McEntire to his "secret" oldest son who doesn't get a lot of press attention, here are a few unexpected facts that you might not have heard about the man behind some of the biggest songs ever.

Billy Ray Cyrus was open to making a Hannah Montana prequel

In February 2011, the country singer turned actor Billy Ray Cyrus came out swinging hard against "Hannah Montana," the Disney show that launched his oldest daughter, Miley, to fame. He expressed his disdain for the show bluntly, telling GQ, "The damn show destroyed my family. I'd take it back in a second. For my family to be here and just everybody be okay, safe and sound and happy and normal would have been fantastic."

Many recalled those strong feelings nine years later when Cyrus seemed to have a change of heart, happily revealing to HollywoodLife that a prequel for the show was getting off the ground. He explained that he would be fully on board, saying, "They're talking about doing a prequel, which to me, I would do that in a heartbeat." However, it seems that Cyrus had been jumping the gun. While the singer and actor may have been interested in the show, no one at Disney was... yet (via E! News).

He was discovered on tour with Reba McEntire

Billy Ray Cyrus was focused on building a career as a professional baseball player when he went to a Neil Diamond concert and had a change of heart. As he told The Washington Post, "When I traded that catcher's mitt in and bought a left-handed guitar, I didn't look back." So he began moving around the United States, spending time in California and West Virginia trying to make ends meet as a singer and performer.

In 1990, Cyrus found himself onstage opening up for country music legend Reba McEntire. As luck and fate would have it, two scouts from Mercury Records were in the audience that night in Louisville, Kentucky, and they wanted to sign him (via Country Music Highway). One thing lead to another, and Cyrus' breakout hit "Achy Breaky Heart" hit radio waves in 1992. 

The song was written by Don Von Tress, who had shopped it around to a few acts before he found the person who would go on to make it soar. As soon as Von Tress played the song for Cyrus he was hooked. As Cyrus told USA Today, "Before the chorus was over, I physically stood up and said, 'That's me, that is all my music that I was raised on ... that's feel-good music.'"

He's all about sandwiches

In 2009, Billy Ray Cyrus stepped out in support of Hellmann's and Best Foods Mayonnaise to campaign for their Sandwich Swap 'n' Share program, which benefitted Feeding America. The combination couldn't have been more ideal. As Cyrus told Look to the Stars, "I am so honored that Hellmann's asked me to be part of this great project. You can't find a bigger sandwich fan than me — I'm just a real food, real sandwich man."

Cyrus was also honored to be part of Feeding America's mission to relieve hunger throughout the United States. The campaign was virtual, with Hellmann's asking people to create sandwiches on their website. Each time a new sandwich was created, the company donated seven lunches to Feeding America.

James Fish, the senior brand manager for Hellmann's, also told the publication that the brand was just as happy to work with Cyrus as he was to work with them. As he explained, the fit was natural. He said, "We loved the idea of marrying the universality of childhood sandwich swapping with an action that supports a great cause like Feeding America."

Cyrus almost played professional baseball

While it might be tough to imagine Billy Ray Cyrus thriving anywhere but in the entertainment industry, for much of his young life Cyrus expected to play professional baseball. As he told Pop Culture in 2020, things were so serious that he was being scouted by teams, including the Dodgers. Cyrus explained, "I was a ball player. I was going to be the catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Or the Dodgers. That was my backup team, the Dodgers."

As fate would have it, Cyrus ended up winning tickets to a Neil Diamond concert, a moment that truly changed his life. He told the publication that this was the first time he had ever won anything, and attending the concert set him on a brand new course. As Cyrus put it, "I saw the power of a song and witnessed the power of an entertainer holding an audience in their hands and representing God's light and God's love through the music."

He nearly retired in the 2010s

In 2011, Billy Ray Cyrus was preparing to release an album of patriotic music titled "I'm American," but he revealed in an interview with The Boot that he had already begun working on what would likely be his most personal album to date. As he explained, he was personally experiencing lot while writing and making the album, including a separation and reunion with his wife, Tish Cyrus. As he said, "This music of this next album — if anybody wonders what was my life like between October of last year and April of this year — it's going to be very well documented because this album is it. It's my life."

Cyrus went on to add that he was ready to retire from music completely after releasing "I'm American," but he then began writing songs and music for a new album and just couldn't stop himself. He said he didn't plan to write any of the songs that ended up on the album. He continued, telling The Boot, "Every song on there came to me during these last six months ... they just came out of me."

Cyrus dropped out of college

Billy Ray Cyrus collaborated on the song "Old Town Road" with Lil Nas X in 2019, and the pair performed at the BET Awards that same year. This was Cyrus' first time at the awards show, and host Regina Hall couldn't help but have a little fun. When she introduced the country singer, she announced, "Howard University's own Billy Ray Cyrus," which prompted a laugh from the guitarist and singer. But viewers were confused: did Cyrus really graduate from a HBCU?

The answer, as Heavy pointed out, is a definite no. In fact, it turns out that Cyrus attended college at Georgetown College in Kentucky. The school is a private Christian liberal arts college. However, Cyrus never graduated; instead, he dropped out when he was 20 years old after he began performing as a musician. While the decision might have felt risky at the time, it was clearly the one that set him on the path he was meant to walk.

He starred on a CMT sitcom

While many viewers know Billy Ray Cyrus from his time starring opposite his real-life daughter, Miley Cyrus, on Disney's "Hannah Montana," it turns out that he has also starred in another television show. In 2016, he joined the cast of "Still the King," in which he played a man known as "the second-best Elvis Presley impersonator" (via Billboard). As Billboard noted when the show premiered, Cyrus' character, Vernon Brownmule, ends up getting into trouble with the law as his Elvis impersonation days are coming to a close.

Cyrus told Billboard that getting back on television wasn't necessarily a goal of his, but when he had the idea for the show he knew it was something he had to pursue. As he said, he felt the show gave him a brand new opportunity. Cyrus explained said "it was one of those light-bulb moments: Here's your reinvention."

Cyrus was practically 'born a registered Democrat'

While Billy Ray Cyrus hasn't made being political a huge part of his career or his music, an event in September 2000 compelled him to voice his personal political beliefs. At the time, the George W. Bush presidential campaign used Cyrus' song "We The People" at the Republication National Convention following Bush's speech. As the Associated Press reported, the song had been offered to both the Bush and Gore campaigns ahead of the election, but only Bush took it.

Nevertheless, Cyrus was clear about one thing: his political affiliation was with the Democratic Party. As he put it, "I was born a registered Democrat." In fact, Cyrus sang the National Anthem at the 1996 Democratic National Convention and even performed at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

However, Cyrus toed the line when asked who he planned to vote for in 2000. As he explained to the Associated Press, "I want to hear what both men have to say. I always pray that God gives me enough sense to vote for the right person."

He has a son from a former relationship

While Billy Ray Cyrus and his estranged wife Tish Cyrus share six children, Billy Ray is also dad to an older son named Cody Cyrus. As he told ABC News, around the time that he and Tish were beginning their relationship, the two found out they were expecting a baby together. They were thrilled, but then Billy Ray found out that a second woman was also pregnant with his child. Tish, who was dating Billy Ray before "Achy Breaky Heart" took over radio stations everywhere, told ABC that "1992 was one of the hardest years of [her] life."

Billy Ray was head over heels for Tish, and he worried that when he told her about the second baby she would leave. He told ABC that he had to be tough with himself ahead of telling her, explaining, "I was either going to be responsible, or I wasn't. Am I gonna be a dad, or I'm not. Am I gonna be a husband, or I'm not. Are we going to be a family, or we're not."

Tish ended up giving birth to Miley Cyrus, and the second woman gave birth to a son the family calls Cody. Cody and his mother lived in South Carolina, and Billy Ray admits to seeing them as much as he could. As he said, "In a perfect world, Cody would be living with me, and we'd all just be one happy family."

Cyrus considers Lil Nas X family

When Billy Ray Cyrus collaborated with Lil Nas X on the song "Old Town Road," both performers experienced a huge boost in their careers. Cyrus was thrust back into the spotlight in a way that he hadn't experienced in years, and the pair began spending a lot of time together as they performed and promoted the song. In January 2020, Cyrus told Us Weekly that his love for Lil Nas X was deep, explaining that the singer was truly part of his family. As he put it, "I have adopted Lil Nas X. I feel like I would die for that boy, I really would. I love him so much. I'm so proud of him, and I'll stand with him till the very end."

Cyrus added that one reason he loves Lil Nas X so much is because the performer created a space for himself in the entertainment industry that is truly his own. As he said, in addition to the genuine love his feels, there is also "the respect that you're looking at a man who used his mind, his human mind, to go somewhere and take down some walls in this music business" (via Us Weekly).

Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus have experienced a lot of ups and downs

Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus announced their decision to divorce in April 2022, keeping quiet initially about the choice but eventually releasing a statement confirming the news. In the statement released to People, the pair explained that they had only love for one another but knew it was time to chart their own paths. The statement began, "It is after 30 years, five amazing children and a lifetime of memories, we have decided to go our separate ways."

The twosome also added that the choice wasn't one they were making easily, writing, "We have not come to this decision lightly or quickly but with so much going on in the world, we wanted to provide some clarity and closure."

This was not the first time Billy Ray and Tish had come to the brink of ending their marriage, but it does appear to be the most permanent. The pair have weathered ups and downs throughout their 30 years together. As People noted, Billy Ray filed for divorce in 2010, but the twosome worked their way back to one another for a time. Additionally, Tish filed for divorce in 2013, but the two worked things out in counseling (via Today).