Today, country music legend Merle Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday, and already hundreds of tributes from both country music fans and superstars have begun pouring in, paying tribute to a man whose career spanned more than five decades.
After having to cancel several concerts due to ailing health brought on by double pneumonia, Merle Haggard’s agent, Lance Roberts, confirmed his death this afternoon. The music legend — and the closest thing country had to a real-life outlaw hero — passed away on his birthday in his Redding, California, home.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, just hours after Merle Haggard’s death was announced, his long-time musical collaborator, Willie Nelson, released a statement calling Haggard his brother, and saying how much he will miss him. Though Willie was probably one of the closest people to Merle, he certainly wasn’t the only one touched by the legend, as evidenced by the outpouring of love and tributes across all social media platforms from fans and stars alike.
Carrie Underwood called Haggard a pioneer, a “true entertainer,” and a legend. Sheryl Crow lamented, like many others, that the world just wouldn’t be the same without Haggard, adding that he was a “[v]oice of reason, good man, true American artist, An original,” reports Entertainment Weekly. Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, released a statement following Merle Haggard’s passing, calling him an “uncommon hero” in country music.
“An exceptional multitalented singer/songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler, Merle’s massive success was rooted in his masterful ability to celebrate the outlaws and the underdogs. Merle’s extraordinary talent resulted in more than 30 No. 1 country hits and his remarkable performances will forever live on and inspire music creators worldwide. We have lost an innovative member of the music community and our sincerest condolences go out to Merle’s family, friends, collaborators and all who have been impacted by his incredible work. He will truly be missed.”
Though his career in the music industry spanned 51 years, Merle Haggard’s life didn’t start out as blessed as it became later. Merle’s father passed away suddenly when he was just 9 years old, prompting him to run away from home, jumping on freight trains to get to where he was going. He spent much of his youth in reform schools and even a home for delinquent boys — two of the former he managed to escape a total of seven times. The Los Angeles Times reports that by 13 years old, Merle Haggard was singing in bars to make money, and by 17 years old he had married his first wife, Leona Hobbs.
At 20 years old, Merle tried to hold up a bar in his home town of Bakersfield, California. He was caught and sent to Bakersfield Jail. After an escape attempt, however, he was transferred to San Quentin prison where a string of occurrences, including witnessing Johnny Cash’s historic 1958 prison performance, prompted Haggard to turn his life around. Merle earned his high school equivalency diploma while in prison, formed a prison band, and finally managed to keep a steady job at the prison’s textile plant. Without further bad behavior on Merle Haggard’s part, he was successfully paroled in 1960. In 1972, Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time, expunged Merle’s record and granted him a full pardon.
Merle Haggard’s death is just another in a rapidly expanding list of recent celebrity deaths that have left fans reeling. Throughout his five-decade-long career, Merle mesmerized fans who found themselves enamored with the outlaw cowboy who wrote songs about the Everyman that were easily relatable.
Merle Haggard is survived by his wife, Theresa Ann Lane, and their two children, Jenessa and Ben, as well as four children from his first marriage to Leona Hobbs, daughters Dana and Kelly, and sons Marty and Noel.
[Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP, File]