But when he set his aim on a musical career, Cyrus was no overnight sensation. For 10 years, he played clubs in Huntington, Ironton, Ohio, and elsewhere while regularly knocking on the doors of musical executives in Nashville and Los Angeles. Most of those doors remained firmly closed.
Cyrus became something of a local musical legend in Huntington during a long-running gig at the Ragtime Lounge. In 1988, club owner Bud Waugh signed Cyrus for a month-long engagement. He ended up packing the West Huntington club night after night for 3 1/2 years.
Recalls Cyrus: "The cozy honky-tonk didn't hold many people to begin with, a dozen or so more than two fifty, but we played and people partied with an energy that made it feel like ten times that number."
When his big break finally came, times for Cyrus were so tough he was actually living in his car. But that big break proved really, really big. When Cyrus recorded "Achy Breaky Heart," the accompanying video was shot at the historic Paramount Theater in Ashland, Ky., the same theater where he had watched Disney movies as a kid. The tune took off like a rocket. It spent five weeks atop the Billboard country chart. Later, when it was included on "Some Gave All," the album became the best-selling debut album of all time by a male solo artist.
The spectacular success set the musical world on its ear and ushered in a pattern that's prevailed throughout the singer's career. He commands millions of loyal fans -- and is regularly derided by vocal critics who seldom miss a chance to lampoon him. One well-known country music writer has singled out "Achy Breaky Heart" as "the worst country music song ever."
But it may be Billy Ray Cyrus who has the last laugh. Twenty years ago, amid the frenzy surrounding "Achy Breaky Heart," some of his critics predicted he'd be a flash in the pan, quickly forgotten. In the years since, he's more than demonstrated his staying power -- although at least some in the younger generation seem to know him best as Miley's dad.
Retired Huntington newspaperman James E. Casto frequently reviews books for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.