Willie Nelson has just lost one of his closest friends and musical collaborators. The death of Merle Haggard on his 79th birthday marks the end of the country music legends’ long partnership, and it puts an end to the duo’s previously scheduled shows for good. Nelson and Haggard released their sixth chart-topping collaborative country album, Django and Jimmie, last year, but now their long-awaited string of scheduled concerts will never be.
According to music blog Austin 360, just hours after Haggard’s death following a long battle with double pneumonia was announced, Nelson released a statement on his longtime friend’s death.
“He was my brother. My friend. I will miss him.”
The two country stars spent plenty of time together in recent years. Merle and Willie performed together last summer at Willie Nelson’s July Fourth Picnic at the Austin 360 Amphitheater, and while recording Django and Jimmie in 2014 at Arlyn Studios in Texas, the two even taped an unaired pilot episode of a show called Inside Arlyn.
In an interview with Esquire last year, Haggard talked about his long friendship with Willie Nelson, saying the vibe on the Django and Jimmie studio sessions was a little different than the craziness of their 1983 collaboration Pancho & Lefty.
“This was probably organized better than Pancho & Lefty. There was a lot of craziness in that period that went on that doesn’t exist anymore. Me and Willie have both been married to the same lady for 20 years or better, and we have two children by the lady we are with, and I am very happy with my life. All the parties and the women went away years ago.”
But the friendship never went away. In fact, the two were as close as brothers, hence Nelson’s endearing description of his late pal.
The future country icons met in 1964 at a poker game at Nelson’s Nashville house, marking the beginning of a 50-year friendship. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Willie described his friend as “one of the best.”
“It’s a mutual-admiration society with us. Merle’s one of the best. There’s not anyone out there that can beat him. Maybe Kris Kristofferson. But then you start running out of names.”
The duo lived hard and played hard, even doing a lengthy master-cleanse regimen of cayenne pepper and lemon juice together back in the early 1980s. (Willie did the cleanse for 10 days, Merle lasted for seven.)
And when talking about their Django and Jimmie shows last year, Nelson had hoped to co-headline even more dates than originally scheduled with his longtime partner.
“We ought to do whatever we can get — as many days as we need to. Because I know it’s a good record. I think it might sell a couple.”
Now, with one country icon gone, country music fans are worried about his other half. In fact, after his longtime pal’s death was announced, social media was abuzz with people asking about Willie Nelson.
Willie Nelson’s official website previously posted a tour update that announced Haggard was canceling his April performances with Willie Nelson & Family due to doctor’s orders, so those joint dates had already been removed from the lineup prior to his death. The Willie Nelson & Family tour is expected to continue with a rotating lineup of special guests, including Jamey Johnson, Ryan Bingham, and Shakey Graves.
Take a look at the video below to see Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard singing their classic song “Pancho & Lefty.”
[Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for The Smith Center]