While the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ actor continues to grieve, he tells PEOPLE in his first sit-down interview that he hopes their story inspires others to express how they feel: “I could not have told Alicia Allain Schneider I love her any more than I did”
John Schneider stares lovingly at a large mural of him and his late wife, Alicia Allain Schneider, painted on the side of their home in Holden, Louisiana. “Hello, my smile,” he tells it with tears in his eyes, his voice tender yet broken.
It’s just one of many items the Dukes of Hazzard star has on the property to keep the memory of Alicia — and the life they shared together — alive. But the sprawling rural spread has also come to be what Schneider, 63, calls “a point of pain” since Alicia died from breast cancer at age 53 on Feb. 21.
“We lived here, but we also survived here,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue as part of his first sit-down interview since Alicia’s death. “We chased our dreams and caught them here. This place has been very important to us from the very beginning and still is.”
With so many reminders of the plans he and his partner of nearly a decade won’t see come to fruition, Schneider is struggling to accept his new reality but feeling grateful for the love they shared.
“I miss every damn thing, every day,” he says. “I have to get to the point where I look around and see where she is, not where she’s not. And I’m trying to do that, but that’s hard. Somehow I love her more every minute, but with that, somehow I miss her more every minute.”
Related: John Schneider Says He ‘Desperately’ Misses Wife Alicia After Her Death: ‘I Simply Have No Words’
Schneider’s love story with Alicia, a producer and owner of Maven Entertainment, began on Oct. 6, 2014, while the two were meeting for lunch to discuss a film project. It was a meeting that almost didn’t happen.
Schneider — best known for playing Bo Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard for seven seasons, his roles in Smallville and Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots, and his country music albums — had trouble finding the restaurant and nearly canceled out of frustration, but Alicia insisted he keep the appointment.
The two clicked right away, exchanging spirited banter — primarily over which role Schneider should play in the film — and the actor, who was separated from his ex-wife Elvira “Elly” Castle at the time, was drawn to Alicia’s quick wit and can-do attitude.
“This meeting that I almost blew off, she never let me forget,” he says. “We’d laugh and say, ‘What would life have been?’ But, I knew that I had met my person. I was smitten and it was wonderful. I played the role she wanted me to play. I lost every battle, but I won because I got her.”
For the next eight years, the couple split time between their Louisiana and Nashville properties and did just about everything together, from producing films and writing music to racing cars and enjoying the outdoors. Alicia also provided support to Schneider while he was going through a contentious divorce with Castle. (He and Castle share daughter Karis, 27. Alicia had one daughter, Jessica, 27, from a previous marriage.)
“We were kindred spirits from the beginning and made everything look easy,” he says.
Related: John Schneider Marries Girlfriend Alicia Allain ‘Before God’ amid Ongoing Divorce
Life as they knew it flipped upside-down in May 2019 when Alicia was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lesion during a routine dermatologist appointment. While Alicia was undergoing treatment, the two decided to tie the knot “in the eyes of God,” since Schneider’s divorce with Castle was not yet finalized. (It wouldn’t become finalized until August 2019.)
“We decided to get married after her diagnosis, not before, which I think speaks a lot to us,” he says. “The TTB, the Team to Beat, was like, ‘Hell no, cancer. You’re not splitting this up. We’re going to make it harder for you.'”
Looking back at photos from their July 2, 2019, wedding outside the barn on the Holden property, Schneider says, “I’m always shocked to see that there were people there because I only remember her.” (The pair were legally wed several months later, on Sept. 27, 2019.)
By 2020, Alicia’s cancer had gone into remission and Schneider says she was “doing great.” But in December 2021, Alicia’s health took a turn when she was involved in a race-car crash and broke her back. Further scans showed her cancer had returned and metastasized to the bone.
For his part, Schneider says he regrets doing such an activity because he could’ve potentially spared his wife more physical pain. “If you’ve made that dog sit, don’t take up something that can break a bone,” he says.
Though more treatment and hospital stays followed, nothing seemed to work — leaving Schneider heartbroken.
“The thing that hurts me the most about it is that she had to endure pain. She had to endure fear,” he says. “In my overly chivalrous mind, those are the two things I’m supposed to keep her from ever having to experience, and I couldn’t.”
In February 2023, Alicia’s health had declined and Schneider, honoring her wishes, brought her home from the hospital for hospice care. For the next six days, their loved ones remained by her side.
“I’d lay at the foot of the bed and hold her hand at night, looking at her pulse, everything in me wanting it to keep going, keep beating, and everything in me wanting it to stop because she was in pain,” he says.
Related: ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ Star John Schneider Mourns Death of His Wife Alicia: ‘Hug Those You Love Tight’
To cope with his grief, Schneider began writing daily messages to Alicia on Facebook that he calls “letters to heaven.” He’s continued to honor her legacy by launching an AliciaWear clothing line featuring phrases she used to say, like “Love That” and “Go Do.”
Schneider also plans to release an album called We’re Still Us as a tribute to Alicia. “The writing helps, but the writing hurts,” he explains. “I’m trying to keep some form of inspiration but it’s very hard, like a candle with a wick and no flame.”
With Alicia’s legacy at the forefront of his mind, Schneider hopes sharing his story will help others who are grieving and remind people to let their loved ones know how they feel about them. “I could not have told Alicia Allain Schneider I love her any more than I did,” he says proudly.
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Above all, he believes that one day he will be reunited with his wife.
“As bad as I hurt, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it,” he says. “Heaven is real, and I’ll get there one day and she’ll greet me. At that point, this will seem like nothing. like no time has gone by. Until then, I will endure. That’s what she’d want, and I’m going to live the rest of my life doing only that which would make her smile.”
“I’m going to ‘go do,’ as she said, even when I don’t want to, so that when I get there, she’ll be delighted with me,” he adds.
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