HAMILTON, OHIO — Country songwriter Darrell "Wayne" Perry made his fortune with hits such as Lorrie Morgan's "What Part of No" and Tim McGraw's "Not a Moment Too Soon." Now, nearly two years after his death, a dispute over his estate is unfolding like a heartbreaking country ballad.
Perry's children have accused their evangelist aunt of persuading him to decline medical care in favor of prayer for the throat cancer that killed him. And after his death, they say, she stole an inheritance that could be worth millions.
Perry looked to his sister "for guidance on spiritual and health decisions," the four children say in a lawsuit against Darlene Bishop. In the months before Perry's death in 2005, Bishop persuaded him "to go to God instead of a hospital to treat his cancer."
Perry's heirs allege that their aunt claimed she had been healed of breast cancer through prayer and faith and that she promised to heal their father the same way.
Besides McGraw's 1994 No. 1 song, Perry's credits also included Toby Keith's "A Woman's Touch," "I Only Miss You" and "Every Promise I Ever Made." He also wrote songs for the Backstreet Boys.
Bishop and her lawyer did not return calls for comment on the lawsuit. On her website, she denies the allegations.
"I would NEVER EVER EVER tell someone to not go to the doctor," she wrote. "As a matter of fact, I encouraged him to listen to the doctors, but he refused surgery saying he would rather die than have his voice box removed."
Bishop is co-pastor of the 4,000-member Solid Rock Church north of Cincinnati, known for its 60-foot statue of Jesus. According to her website, her weekly half-hour TV program "Sisters" is seen on Christian networks in more than 200 countries.
Perry's children believe that their 55-year-old father left a substantial estate, perhaps as much as $750,000, and that Bishop, as executor, has refused to follow his wishes in distributing the money to them.
They contend that she also kept a $300,000 life insurance payoff intended for them and that notebooks containing unpublished songs potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing.
The lawsuit accuses Bishop of wrongful death, clergy malpractice and fraud. No trial date has been set.
In her book "Your Life Follows Your Words," Bishop contends that faith and prayer cured her cancer and Perry's. But in a deposition, she acknowledged she was never diagnosed with cancer by a physician, although she believed she had the disease.
"I believe she had him brainwashed that he was cured of cancer," said Perry's oldest son, Bryan. The lawsuit alleges that Bishop "overpowered and subjugated" Perry's mind, destroying his "free agency."
After learning he had cancer in 2003, Perry went to live with his sister, moving from Nashville, Tenn., to Monroe, about 25 miles north of Cincinnati.
At one point, the lawsuit says, Perry was hospitalized and refused a tracheotomy because of Bishop's influence over him. Later he allowed a tracheotomy but apologized to Bishop for his lapse of faith.
Perry's son Justin Wayne Jones wants the court to name him executor of his father's will.
During his father's illness, Bishop would lay hands on Perry and pray to God to heal the cancer, Jones said in a sworn statement.
But as Perry became sicker, Bishop's interest in caring for him diminished, Jones said.
Bishop "got to the point where she wouldn't even pop her head in the door to check on Wayne. She was too busy touring the country, selling her book and ministering," Jones said.
Bishop insisted to relatives that she had followed Perry's wishes. Court papers quote Bishop as telling Perry's ex-wife Janet Natguard in a rambling voice mail left in May: "The Lord knows I've got clean hands and a clear conscience before God that I've not done anything that I didn't think Wayne wanted."
Perry received some medical treatment at his children's urging, but it was too little, too late, his eldest son said.
"I feel sorry for her, that she's lost her way," Bryan Perry said. "She didn't used to be like this. I think money has got her on a different path. I pray for her every day."