John Mellencamp was born in 1951 with spina bifida, which, in that era, often killed kids or left them paralyzed.
But he survived and thrived, which his God-fearing grandma, who lived near him and his parents in Seymour, Indiana, took as a sign. Every day, Laura Mellencamp told her grandson, “Buddy, don’t forget. You’re the handsomest, luckiest, most talented boy in the world.”
As a kid, John was known for his troublemaking, not his talents, and he and his parents fought contantly.
But he got along great with his grandma.
She never lost faith in him, she once said.
“I always felt he was going to be special,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1986, after he’d made it big with “Jack and Diane,” “Hurts So Good,” and other hits. “He was always a good boy. They all go through a rough period, but we just have to make them know we love them and still want them.”
Laura loved to make music, says John, now 66.
“You could throw any instrument in front of her and she could play it,” he recently told CBS Sunday Morning. “Piano, string instrument. You know, never even seen—’What is this instrument?’—and then she’s playing.”
Laura sometimes joined John onstage, and she made a cameo on Scarecrow, the album he released in 1985.
Meanwhile, she kept telling him that he was the “handsomest, luckiest, most talented” guy on earth.
“She told me that every day of my life,” he told CBS. “The flipside of that is it’s really hard for girlfriends to compete with that. And wives.”
Laura died in 2002, at age 97, when John was in his early 50s.
John, who has been divorced three times, is currently unmarried, though he has had an on-again, off-again relationship with actress Meg Ryan for many years.
He still lives in Indiana.
(Sources: The Los Angeles Times, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR)