Billy Ray Cyrus prayerful about his choices in music, TV & film

by Phil Boatwright, posted Thursday, August 26, 2004 (13 years ago)

LOS ANGELES (BP)—Billy Ray Cyrus may seem to have it all. He’s a Grammy-winning singer and star of the PAX network's cornerstone drama, “Doc.”

But he’s got a battle on his hands.

"If you're going to stand up for Jesus, your life will be a battle between light and darkness,” Cyrus said in an interview with Baptist Press.

“And for everything that God will bring into your life that represents the light, the devil -- he's such a sly fox -- will come at you with two times more attributes of evil."

Although his musical roots lie firmly in the church –- he was part of his father's gospel quartet before he started grade school -– Cyrus, the grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, acknowledges: "I made a lot of mistakes” en route to growing up. He paid his dues, for example, by singing in bars, at one point living out of his Chevy Beretta.

“But I was fortunate that I was brought up in a church where I heard about God's love and His forgiveness. I might have gotten a little wild, but I never left my faith. Luckily, teachings from the Bible were instilled so deep inside me that no matter how far I would stray, I'd still hear that voice that said, 'You have a purpose, you have a reason you were put on this earth, you've got to be the person God wants you to be.'"

His fortunes changed in 1992 with the release of “Achy Breaky Heart.” The infectious single, which even spawned its own line dance, jump-started his music career, helping his debut album, “Some Gave All,” set a record for longest time spent at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for a new artist, clocking in at 17 weeks.

Suddenly, those who follow sleek, cowboy-hat-wearing warblers started buying tickets to Billy Ray's concerts and anxiously awaiting his subsequent albums. After years of struggle, instantly Billy Ray Cyrus was BILLY RAY CYRUS. And with that, Hollywood came a calling.

"David Lynch used me in his film, ‘Mulholland Drive,’ a few years ago. I was a novice, a fish out of water. But he said to me, 'Why don't you do this for a living? You're an actor.' But after finishing that movie, I felt like I had made a deal with the devil. I felt like I'd done something dark. It's a dark film. And as you know, there ain't a whole lotta light in Hollywood.

"So I prayed, asking God what He wanted me to do. I prayed, 'God, if you want me to be an actor, send me the kind of work that You want me to do.' Days later I got the script for Doc. I read it and said, ‘Man, this is about faith and hope and compassion.’ I loved it. I told myself, this is what God had intended for me to do. He was telling me that I could spread His Word and His love through television."

The show –- which is entering its fifth season -- is in dozens of markets around the world, including several Middle-Eastern countries.

Cyrus said he would like to continue with Doc as long as it continues to evolve. "As you know, anything that isn't growing is dead."

Cyrus also has returned to the big screen with “Elvis Has Left the Building,” starring Kim Basinger. "On Doc, I'm pretty much Billy Ray Cyrus. But in that movie I got to be a character. I play Kim's dad. When Doc ends, I'll look for film roles like this one, roles that make me stretch."

Asked where the Christian actor should draw the line in the roles he chooses, Cyrus pensively suggested, "I think each person needs to pray for Almighty God to guide their lives, to do the things they're supposed to do on earth. You need to listen to that voice within. Everybody should ask themselves, 'What would Jesus do?'"

Which leads to “The Other Side,” his first gospel CD. "I hit a couple of spots where I didn't feel like God could hear me anymore. There were times I felt like, is anybody listening? Does anybody care? But it wasn't that God wasn't listening; it's that I wasn't taking the time to be still and make sure that prayer was getting through. Making this album was probably most similar to my first album, in that it became who I was and what I wanted to sing and where I am at in my life."

On The Other Side, an 11-track album that reflects Cyrus' faith journey, the energetic and uplifting tunes range from southern rock and country story-songs to heartfelt balladry –- along with a bluesy version of “Amazing Grace,” the only traditional hymn on the set.

Despite having a starring role on TV and several gold albums on the wall, Cyrus said there is a downside.

"Man, like I said, it's a dark business, and I mean both of 'em -- the music business as well as movies, with a whole lot of temptations and very few spiritually convicted people to light your way."

So what motivates Cyrus to pursue a life in such a dark business? Why not just sing in church, do community theater and work a 9-to-5? For people unencumbered by an artistic nature, those seem like logical questions. But for an artist whose bottom line is to direct others to the saving power of Jesus Christ, they are unthinkable.

"I pray every day,” Cyrus said, “that God will give me the wisdom and the vision and the intelligence to do the things on this earth I'm supposed to do: to sing the songs I'm supposed to sing, to be in the movies or TV shows I'm supposed to be in, to say the things I'm supposed to say to the people I'm supposed to say them to."


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