Legendary American country music singer, songwriter, musician and guitarist Merle Haggard has passed away Wednesday, on his 79th birthday, at his Palo Cedro residence in California. He died of complications from pneumonia according to his manager, Frank Mull, as told to the Associated Press and reported by The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). He is survived by his fifth wife Theresa Ann Lane and their two children.
The late singer’s son, Ben Haggard, wrote on Facebook that Merle Haggard had predicted the day of his death a week before he passed away. “A week ago, dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn’t wrong. An hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends. He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music. He wasn’t just a country singer … He was the best country singer that ever lived.”
A CNN article notes that Haggard, who spent the significant portion of his life involved in crime and behind bars, created six decades worth of musical legacy after overcoming his criminal past. His rugged, outlaw image helped sell millions of records. Haggard recorded more than three dozen No. 1 country hits, mentions CNN. His famous 1969 songs like “Okie from Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side of Me” has inspired generations of singers. In the former song, Haggard spoke against drug use which earned him an audience at the White House in 1973 under Nixon’s reign, notes SMH. Haggard, however, continued to smoke marijuana for most of his life.
Tributes have been pouring from many musicians, fellow country singers, and celebrities. American singer, songwriter, poet and activist Willie Nelson posted on Twitter an image of himself seated with Haggard, with the words “He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him.” Haggard and Nelson worked together on the collaboration album “Pancho and Lefty” in 1983, with the title track written by Townes Van Zandt becoming a huge hit. They collaborated again on “Seashores of Old Mexico” and “Last of a Breed.” Last year, they recorded a video for their new single, “It’s All Going to Pot” from their duets album “Django and Jimmie” where they appear smoking joints while singing in a recording studio, as noted by Rolling Stones.
Charlie Daniels, known for his country and southern rock music, wrote on his Twitter that “Country music has suffered one of the greatest losses it will ever experience.” He later on added, “Rest in peace Merle Haggard.”
Legendary Hollywood actor/director Clint Eastwood, who worked with Haggard on the 1980s film “Bronco Billy,” told Rolling Stone Country that “Merle will always be one of the greatest classic country artists of all time. He will be dearly missed.” Haggard had recorded the song “Bar Room Buddies” with Eastwood for the film. The single remained number one for a week and topped the US Billboard country charts.
He was known and loved as the working man’s singer and that was his greatest contribution; his tribute to the common man and the outsider.