Pitstop in Louisiana led Billy Ray Cyrus to Still the King

Billy Ray Cyrus in Still the King

Johnny Cash was onto something in 1992 when he wrote Billy Ray Cyrus a letter of encouragement. Cash praised him for crediting God for his success and made comparisons between him and Elvis. Sure seems serendipitous as Cyrus starts the next chapter in his TV career.

Now almost 25 years later, Cyrus stars as Vernon, a washed-up country star who stumbles into the role of a preacher and an Elvis impersonator in CMT’s new comedy Still the King, debuting on CMT Sunday, June 12 at 9pmET. Cyrus reflects a lot on what Cash told him.

“I look back at that letter that Johnny Cash wrote me,” Cyrus tells. “[He] handwrote this letter and compared me to Elvis. It is odd at this stage of my life to go, ‘Wait a minute, this is really a part of everything in my life that led to this moment and to this series.’ A lot of what I have lived has become part of Vernon’s character.”

Well, probably not serving parole like Vernon is for a drunken night gone bad. In addition to his problems with the law, Vernon also learns that he has a teenage daughter he never knew existed (hello, child support!). Deep in the story, however, there is some heart and soul to this, as well as some notable supporting and guest cast members including Lacey Chabert, Joey Lauren Adams, John Corbett and Wayne Newton.

Prior to writing and producing the series, Cyrus spent some time contemplating how he would reinvent himself after his monster TV hit Hannah Montana. “I did a show down in the Gulf, down around Louisiana. That night, after the show, we pulled in for gas. I got my dog off the bus and was taking him for a walk. There was an old Pentecostal church right there, just falling down in front of me. Then behind it there was the Louisiana dome where Elvis did a famous concert. …When I looked up and I saw that church and I saw that coliseum where Elvis played, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I go, ‘There it is right there, man. A dysfunctional Elvis impersonator who lies his way into a small church as a preacher.’ I swear it was just that quick. I got in my bus and I pulled out a notebook.”

Destiny calling, indeed.