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J. Michael Finley
Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA
Born: December 1, 1972
Birthplace: Greenville, Texas, USA
Bart Millard (young)
Born: April 9, 1954
Houston, Texas, USA
Born: November 26, 1942
Birthplace: Greenville, Texas, USA
Death: November 11, 1991, Greenville, Texas, USA (pancreatic cancer)
Bart Millard's father
Born: March 18, 1996
Los Angeles, California, USA
Born: November 1, 1974
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas, USA
Bart Millard's girlfriend and future wife (pictured in 1990)
Born: January 13, 1962
Springhill, Louisiana, USA
Born: May 17, 1980
Santa Rosa, California, USA
Born: November 25, 1960
Birthplace: Augusta, Georgia, USA
Christian and pop singer
Born: February 2, 1972
Chicago, Illinois, USA
No. The I Can Only Imagine true story reveals that Bart's parents divorced when he was just three years old. According to Bart, his mother always said, "I married a teddy bear but went home with a monster" (Billboard). Unlike what is seen in the movie, Bart lived with his mother up until the third grade. It was then that his mother chose to move away with her third husband. It was decided that it would be best for Bart and his older brother Stephen to stay with their father, Arthur (People). Bart's brother Stephen (pictured below) is absent from the movie.
Yes. He was an All-American football star who played for Southern Methodist University, but he hurt his knee around his sophomore year, which restricted his playing time. "He got homesick, ended up going home, and married my mom," says Bart. He took a job with the Department of Transportation as a flag waver on construction sites. In addition to his head injury from being struck by a truck on the job, the family doctor always felt that getting hit hard playing football since he was five also contributed to the likely frontal lobe injury. -Catholic Digest
No. His father didn't drink or use drugs. It was his short temper and tendency to take out his frustrations on his son that was at the root of the abuse. "If he got embarrassed or cut off in traffic or whatever, he would take a swing at me," Bart recalls. "I was like his punching bag" (People). On occasion, he would beat Bart if the Dallas Cowboys lost. The beatings happened as often as three or four times per week, which left Bart in constant fear (The Tennessean).
Yes. "My wife, [Shannon], was my first girlfriend in 8th grade. She's a huge part of my story," Millard wrote on Twitter in January 2017.
Yes. The I Can Only Imagine true story confirms that Bart's grandmother (Memaw) came up with the name for the band. When he told her he was going to be a singer, she replied, "Mercy me."
Yes. In the film, Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley) reminds his father (Dennis Quaid) of this childhood incident as his father is trying to make amends. The true story behind I Can Only Imagine reveals that the reason for the beating was because Bart had forged his father's name on a notification that he had made the honor roll. Even though it was a good thing, he didn't want to risk giving his father the letter and sparking a reaction. The school recognized the forgery and called home to let his father know the good news. His father felt embarrassed and waited for Bart to get home.
As soon as Bart walked in, his father began whipping him for several minutes with a razor strap. It was so intense that Bart started to fear that his father was going to kill him. "He beat me all the way through the house," recalled Bart. "Everything on me hurt so badly I couldn't lay on my back." Bart cried in his dark room for hours, until his father burst in and turned on the light. "It's about time you stop crying!" His father froze as he looked at his son's back and saw the black and purplish bruises and the dark welts. It was the first time that Bart had ever heard his father cry.
Fearing he might do something worse to his son, Arthur sent Bart to live with his mother, Adele, and her new husband in San Antonio, Texas. Bart stayed in touch with his dad and quickly realized that he hated living with his mom. He returned to live with his father at the end of the sixth grade. -The Tennessean
Yes, but it was how much Bart's dad had changed after finding religion that allowed Bart to see him in a new light. "I got a front row seat to see this guy go from being a monster to falling desperately in love with Jesus," Bart says. -People.com
Yes. Bart acted like a nurse to his father as he went through cancer treatments. After not being very close prior to that, Bart would administer his father's medicine at night and they'd talk for two or three hours until they fell asleep. -People
Yes. "It's literally changed the trajectory of my life," Bart said while speaking of his father finding God. Seeing how much it changed his dad helped Bart to discover his own faith. It guided his life, his music, and the choices he's made since. "I guess I grew up thinking that if the Gospel could change that guy, it could change anybody. There was no denying it" (People). As emphasized in the movie, Millard says that his dad "went from a monster to the guy I wanted to be like when I grew up" (CatholicDigest.com).
Yes. Though it's not shown in the movie, Bart's mother and father reconciled before his father died. "She was there when he passed away," says Bart. -Catholic Digest
"My dad was diagnosed with cancer my freshman year of high school," says Bart. He passed away almost five years later on November 11, 1991, a few months after Bart's graduation. Bart was 19 at the time. "The movie made it look like it all happened in my junior and senior year of high school." -Catholic Digest
Like in the movie, the idea for the song came from a comment his grandmother made at his father's funeral. "She said, 'I can only imagine what your dad's seeing now,' and I became obsessed with that phrase," Bart recalled. He spent years constantly writing the phrase down on anything in front of him. "It was more O.C.D. than religious," he admits. When he began work on MercyMe's first album, his notebook was filled with the phrase. He saw it as a sign and started to incorporate it into a song. Having lived the song's backstory, he says it took him only ten minutes to write. Unlike the movie, he didn't write the song right after his father died. Almost seven years had passed before he finally wrote the song in 1998. -People
The film heightens the drama here a bit. Like in the movie, Bart did give Amy Grant the rights to record the "I Can Only Imagine" song. She knew that it would be a career maker and decided she wanted him to release it. However, she didn't tell Bart by having a sudden change of heart while on stage at a concert. She notified him prior to a scheduled performance at a showcase. She gave the song back to him and asked him if he would perform it with her at the event. -Contagious Encouragement
Expand on what you know about the true story behind the I Can Only Imagine movie by watching the videos below, including an interview with Bart Millard and the music video for the song.